Mormons Make Good Americans

One of the major points which I brought up in dialogue with the Mormons I have been meeting with for the past eight months or so is the fact that their church has a history of violence. I have not made a study of all the various stories of violence in Mormon history, but I understand that there are those who have worked to show that there has been a lot of it.

I don’t know about all that. What I am definitely aware of is the account of the death of Joseph Smith. It seems that, according to the LDS church’s own history, Smith died in a gunfight after wounding two people himself. I find this odd, to say the least. While it’s apparently true that he was trapped in a jail building which was being overrun by an angry lynch mob that was coming to kill him, I just can’t see his end as a heroic one – certainly not one which gives evidence of his being a true prophet. I would have expected the founding prophet of the one true church to have gone meekly and humbly to the gallows and let himself be martyred in a peaceable way – or at least to trust God to get him out of the situation. But instead, Smith went out in blaze of desperation and hostility.

Of course, there is nothing special about this when we remember that violence, especially “redemptive” violence, is the norm for the world and, sadly, for much of the church. In fact, many Christians in America and elsewhere, would have no problem, in principle, with Smith’s use of force in self-defense. But even such Christians would probably agree that it makes Smith’s claim to be God’s prophet, the one who is restoring the true faith to the world, ring quite hollow. (Such Christians as agree with my thinking here might ask themselves why it seems wrong that a true prophet would resort to such violence, but it seems just fine for ‘ordinary’ believers to do so. But that’s another topic.)

For my part, committed as I am to the belief that Christ’s way is the way of peace and non-violence, this historic account of Smith’s demise is, all on its own, sufficient ground to doubt the credibility of the Mormon message. I know this beyond any doubt: If it were actually the case that the church had fallen away 1800 or 1900 years ago and that the true, full gospel had only been restored in the last 140 years through the work of a young prophet from New York, the church established by that prophet would be a peace church – not another church which legitimizes the use of violent force against people. The fact is, Mormons make good Americans in the sense of being very much on board with the idea of the heroism of the military and the myth of redemptive violence. (The likes of Glenn Beck come to mind.) I would have expected the true, restored church to be more like the Mennonites in this regard.

This connects to the issue of the LDS church’s pattern of racial and sexual inequality. But we’ll have to save that for another post.

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5 thoughts on “Mormons Make Good Americans

  1. This type of criticism fascinates me. First off, there were three other individuals in the room, including Joseph’s brother, Hyrum, whom he loved very much. You may think it noble to do nothing and allow the whole room to be massacred, which is likely what they believed was going to happen, but I’m not sure I agree.

    As for prophets and violence, the Bible has plenty to offer. Start with 1 Samuel 15.

    • Hello, “EdB” —
      I’m afraid I have no idea of who you are, and would love to be able to relate on a more personal level. But at any rate, I only have time for a very quick reply for the moment. Hopefully, there will be more time later.
      I realize that there were others in the room (though I had thought that there were three people, counting Joseph Smith). And I do understand your point in this regard. Hyrum Smith was shot in the head (through the eye?), as I recall. What a terrible thing to have happen! I do not want to minimize the terror or the grief with which they were faced. I do not know what I would do in that circumstance. Perhaps I would be so overcome with rage that I would fight back. But then, I am not claiming to be the one through whom God is revealing the true nature of Christianity to the world.
      In the interest of time, let me address your comment about the violence of biblical prophets by merely pointing out that this is a HUGE discussion that has gone on for a long time; and it would need to be understood in light of that longer discussion. Peace Christians have been in debate and dialogue with our brothers and sisters for centuries over whether or not it is God’s way to have His people involved in doing harm to others in the name of some good. Many Christians in my life who disagree with my pacifism love to point to Joshua and other Old Testament battles and instances of divinely sanctioned violence (Samuel’s dismemberment of Agag might be a good example). It is perfectly legitimate to point to such things and ask a Christian pacifist, “What about that?” But do you really think that Mennonites, Quakers, German Brethren and other peace Christians have never heard that before?
      If I ask a tough question for which the young Mormon missionaries in my garage have no answer, I do not assume that that means that no Mormon has an answer for it. The same thing pertains here. If the mere fact of “holy war” in the OT were enough to show the error of Christian pacifism, then the debate would have been settled long ago.
      But let me offer a beginning of an explanation here. The OT is, by no means, set aside by the coming of Christ in the NT. However, His advent and His mission have definitely shown that certain things are to be different from then on. The way of Christ is not to kill or to take, but to give and to die. He expects no less of His people.
      Over to you! 🙂

  2. Joseph Smith did not kill three people in Carthage jail. He fired a pistol three times (and misfired three more), and wounded two militiamen but neither of them died.

    Why did you think he killed three people? Where did you hear that?

    • Hi, Bob!
      Welcome to The Long War! 🙂 How did you come to hear of me?
      I apologize for getting the details wrong on the story of Smith’s final moments. If you look at the post again, you will see that I have corrected it to read in a manner in keeping with what you’ve said here. Thank you!
      I do not remember where I got the idea that he had killed three people. I hate to say it, but I think I simply remembered wrongly. I guess I had the number “three” stuck in my mind. I am ordinarily very careful and remember such things pretty accurately. But the reason that I have immediately believed the version of events that you have described is that, now that I read your words, i seem to remember that that is indeed what i read before. Anyway, I have fixed the post. Please accept my apologies for the blunder.
      Now, having said that, I can say that it makes little difference to my point… unless you’re going to say that Smith intentionally aimed to wound the men. If so, I would call on you to explain how you could know his intent. And even so, it would only serve to mitigate the problem in the smallest degree.
      So what do you think of the main point that I have made here?

  3. Hello those concerned,
    It is interesting enough. I immediately recall some historical classic literature concerning Brigham Young, aptly named “A Study in Scarlet”. Well worth the read, and based in some documents of the time, and considered fiction. It is always easy for us humans to swear off any act of violence until the time of reckoning. It is lucid enough in the canon of scripture that we are to come in peace, stand for peace, and leave in peace even at the cost of self sacrifice-even up to and including bringing resolution to broken relationships. It is always important to love others before yourself, and during the seasons of living – that may include pacifism. Oddly enough it is myopic for a remnant of the church today to speak of pacifism, and leave so many souls unloved with so much pacifying to do. Pacifism has become this 11th commandment for people who find making a difficult decision too distasteful, or even wanting not to carry the responsibility, or pressure of making a “godly” decision. It is easy to muddle our thinking, and go off on one tangent or another, but very difficult indeed to find that balance that our Lord Jesus had. If one is going to commit themselves to pacifism one certainly needs to pacify loved ones, and friends in their relationships. Deciding to criticize the 1o1st Airborne for using violence to overcome the cruel NAZI’s during Operation Market Garden, or asking a woman who is being violently raped to just lay there and take it, or asking a child to lay down on the ground for the neighborhood bully is absolute nonsense. We are always called to love all our fellow humans being, but we know we should always seek to please our Father in Heaven, and as incredulous as it may sound God does have an order to things, and some things are a priority, and believe it or not some things are right or true-so let us be strong enough to admit it. Let us be honest and say we abhor violence, and then do the will of our Almighty Please let us not live in fear, or portend some goody-goody attitude that we do not desire a justice for our brothers, and sisters. it is not the way of our Lord. Discernment is what is needed so we do not have to get on our soap boxes, and boast our shiny badges of pride, and sit idly by while people suffer. Did He not free us to follow him, and do His work with our talents. I have no desire to sit in my ivory tower, and look down on the rest. Reality gentlemen! There is much to say, but my time draws near. let us not be so academically minded that we are of no earthly good to anyone. Thank you for your soap box on TLW. May our Lord richly bless you with the love that the apostle Paul had for the commoners in the “trenches”.

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