This is something that I never thought that I would do. However, I feel compelled to respond to a video which Michelle Stone, from 132 Problems: Revisiting Mormon Polygamy recently put out. This is in no way critical of her, or her dedicated work. I think though that things are vastly more complicated than the simplistic narrative which is being put out by her and others in the same circles.
Before I get into the response, I first want to very briefly talk about myself and my motivations so there is no confusion. My name is Patrick Morris, and I am currently a disfellowshipped member of the LDS Church and will very likely never be admitted back into full fellowship. I was disfellowshipped for ‘apostasy’ during covid because I saw how the LDS church diverted from the scriptures and I was vocal about it. I frankly think everyone should be more vocal as well. The LDS church has gotten to this point today because the leaders are unaccountable gods in Mormonism. We don’t hold them accountable, and we are perfectly happy not doing so.
I do though love the LDS church and what it has helped me to become today. However, I certainly disagree with several foundational claims of the church. This most certainly includes the need for the temple endowment and polygamy which I think both are quite clearly unscriptural. I do also believe that Joseph was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is scripture, and the LDS church today is off track. However, things are not quite as simple as just that unfortunately.
With that said, I think that members very easily fall into a trap where everything is either black or white. If someone is a prophet, then everything they say or do is prophetic and of God. If they do something that turns out wrong or bad, then the prophet didn’t do it and it must have been misattributed, a conspiracy by others, or simply we just aren’t capable of understanding yet.
This logic is used by faithful members today for President Nelson to justify things we are told that are safe and effective, and by most members for Joseph Smith. However, again things are much more nuanced than that. Someone can be a prophet and then make terrible choices for a variety of reasons. I personally have days where I feel like I can reach out and touch God and then I have other days where I question everything. Our lives are meant to be a rollercoaster of emotions like the amazing Psalm of Nephi, in 2 Nephi 4, shows.
Recently I did a brief look into the second anointing, and it was suggested to me, by multiple people, that I watch Michelle’s video on the temple endowment. I have sporadically watched her videos and mainly have gotten my information about her work from my wife, who I believe, watches every one of her videos. I have no negative feelings toward Michelle or her work. I know she puts in massive time and effort to do what she does.
Researching these things is complicated and I think everyone that seeks to challenge the status quo should be applauded. It is very easy to go along with the system and much harder to challenge it. Do we though, want to be like Moses and command the great waters of the Red Sea to part or like Laman and Lemuel who deny the mighty power of God after seeing an angel for themselves.
My goal in this response is to go through every one of Michelle’s high-level points and quickly show how it is either misleading or entirely consistent with other evidence. This is certainly not exhaustive as it would take me weeks to go through everything and numerous people on all sides of the questions already have. I am also in no way doing this to support or endorse the LDS church or its current truth claims. Honestly, if I was speaking to an investigator, I would strongly encourage them to believe the Book of Mormon, but not join the LDS church. I think we should let the truth guide us wherever it will.
Endowment Not Written Down
Starting at about the 21-minute mark, Michelle begins by discussing how the Endowment was not written down until many years after the supposed first Endowment in Nauvoo. The claim is made that it was not written down because it was too sacred. This is a bit irrelevant however was certainly the opinion of some people, I am sure. It was not written down because many things were changing in the church and there was no need to write it down at that point. An oral ceremony served every purpose they needed.
The only reason it was actually written down in 1877, was because Brigham was worried about people changing it and he wanted to establish his version of the endowment as the authoritative version. He knew he was going to die soon and wanted to further establish his legacy. At that point the Endowment had already been going on for about 22 years in the Endowment house, and of course wasn’t written down prior. If it was important to write down, then Brigham would have done so by then as he had more than enough opportunity. In 1877 when the leaders assembled to actually write the Endowment down it took them about 2 months in order to agree on the final language. Brigham Young then died shortly afterwards.
If though, what the LDS church claims is true, that the Endowment was first given to a small group of people in the Anointed Quorum, before the larger church group received it, then it makes perfect sense not to write it down. In the video Michelle references several times how Joseph mentioned that he would teach stronger doctrines publicly versus what he would teach privately, however this is provable not true. This is also not how humans work. We are always more open and honest with our trusted friends than we are with strangers. Joseph was no different.
In the Relief Society meeting minutes for April 28th, 1842 it is recorded that Joseph was having issues with people, who he was teaching in private, openly claiming Joseph’s private teachings as their own. It is recorded:
President Smith continued by speaking of the difficulties he had to surmount ever since the commencement of the work in consequence of aspiring men … who had caused him much trouble, whom he had taught in the private counsel; and they would go forth into the world and ploclaim [proclaim] the things he had taught them; as their own revelationsJoseph Smith – Relief Society Meeting Minutes
Of course, this makes no sense if Joseph was consistently teaching softer doctrines in private than he was in public. This statement would only make sense if he was in fact teaching additional things in private, that he was not in public. Which is exactly what everyone does. Are we to imagine that Joseph wouldn’t teach higher and plainer things to his trusted friends? There is so much evidence to suggest that is exactly what Joseph did. Journals and letters at the time speak of Joseph teachings numerous things privately that he never spoke about in any detail publicly. Are we to believe they are all lying?
To illustrate this, I want to list two specific cases where Joseph is purported to have taught stronger doctrines in private versus what was taught in public. Of course, by the nature of this subject we have to take someone’s word that this is what Joseph taught. If it was taught publicly, we would have a statement of his, however of course a private teaching doesn’t have such a statement.
The first case is from the autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson which was published after his death in 1947. Benjamin was a private secretary to Joseph Smith and part of the exclusive Council of Fifty. In his autobiography, Benjamin wrote:
I asked where the nine and a half tribes of Israel were. “Well,” said he, “you remember the old caldron or potash kettle you used to boil maple sap in for sugar, don’t you?” I said yes. “Well,” said he, “they are in the north pole in a concave just the shape of that kettle. And John the Revelator is with them, preparing them for their return.”Benjamin F. Johnson – Autobiography
The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the quaker style and are quite general in style or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years ” This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could “See” whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.Oliver B. Huntington – Autobiography
Of course, neither of these concepts was publicly taught by Joseph so if he taught them then he had to do so privately.
Line Upon Line
Starting at about the 26-minute mark Michelle begins by discussing the idea of “line upon line” found in Isaiah 28. I firmly agree with her that this can be a dangerous idea used to justify absolutely anything. However, it unfortunately is exactly how God works according to D&C 98:12 and numerous other scriptures. Does anyone really think that we can comprehend even a small sliver of all that God has to give? No, we certainly can’t. Everything we know about God is either completely wrong or woefully incomplete. Therefore, he gives us what we can handle, waits patiently, and then gives us more. Suggesting anything otherwise is completely missing the entire purpose of the Gospel.
Specifically, Michelle references this concept as originating with Brigham Young in 1845, however as was mentioned, God uses this phrase in D&C 98 which was received in 1833. In addition, this is exactly how God revealed to Peter, in Acts 10, that the Gospel should then be given to the Gentiles. Peter was an amazing example of faith; however, he was mentally stuck in the mindset that the Gospel was limited only to the Jews. It was not until he was ready to make that change mentally, on a roof top in Joppa, that God revealed to him that it should happen.
Another example of this principle is found in the very beginning of the Book of Mormon. Lehi left Jerusalem not knowing his next steps and only knew he needed faith. The sons of Lehi returned to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass not knowing how it was going to happen and only that they needed faith. They wandered in the wilderness not knowing where they were going only that they needed to have faith that God would reveal the next step. Frankly our lives should follow the exact same pattern. We should be like Nephi when the angel asks him if he understands what is happening and Nephi answers that he doesn’t:
I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.1 Nephi 11:17
Lastly, I do want to very briefly mention Isaiah 28. Michelle dances around this a little bit and never conclusively mentions it. However, Isaiah 28 is without a doubt an insult from God. The entire chapter is discussing how the people of God are incapable of learning and their leaders have gone astray. Verse 9 then mentions that God has no one to teach because no one is capable of progressing beyond their mother’s milk. If you’re a mother, would you be upset if you had an adult child that still needed breast milk in order to survive?
Verse 10 then mentions that the only thing the people of God will understand is basic repetition like a baby does. Babies parrot their parents and initially don’t understand what they are saying fully. This is what the people of God are doing. They are just going through the motions with no understanding. God wants a people who become their own fountains of living water like Christ. He doesn’t want a people that mimic the fountain because they don’t understand how to become one themselves.
May 4, 1842
Starting at about the 56-minute mark, Michelle gets into the heart of the presentation with her 5 core points. The first point was that the endowment was administered to a small group of people on May 4th, 1842. She correctly shows that the information for the date is scant. However, does the date actually matter? Of course, whether it happened at all matters. Highlighting the specific date though, seems to be an attempt to show the lack of evidence actually means something.
In the first part of this section, Michelle focuses on the many times that Joseph mentioned that there were certain things that God wanted to reveal to the members, however they needed a temple to do so. She uses the May 1st, 1842, discourse which was recorded by Willard Richards. For some reason she only quotes from a small section of it which reinforces her conclusion. However, if she were to use the whole thing it would actually negate her conclusion. The actual recorded portion reads:
The keys are certain signs & words by which false spirits & personages may be detected from true.— which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed.—The rich can only get them in the Temple. The poor may get them on the Mountain top as did moses.Joseph Smith – May 1st, 1842 discourse
In this discourse, Joseph is saying that God wants to reveal things in the Temple, however if there is not a temple then there are certainly exceptions to the general rule. This actually exactly aligns with D&C 124, which was received on January 19th, 1841, and is where God commands the members to build the Nauvoo temple so their baptisms can be performed there. However, he specifically says that until that is done then their baptisms can be performed outside the temple. Would it not make sense to think this applies to other things as well? D&C 124 reads:
For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead— for this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me. 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 unto me.D&C 124:29-31
At that point in the church, the members were certainly in a state of poverty which is why God allowed their baptisms to be done outside of the temple. It would be consistent to conclude that this extended to other things as well.
She continues in her video by focusing on Joseph’s journal account for that day and how it is lacking specifics. I completely agree with her that it really would be nice if the journal account contained more information. However again the lack of information doesn’t mean nothing noteworthy happened that day. I didn’t write about my dinner last night so does that mean I didn’t eat it? The conclusion she reaches however completely ignores many valuable pieces of information which pertain to Joseph’s and others state of mind at that time.
In Heber C. Kimballs journal, which he appears to have used to summarize important events after the fact, Heber records an event for June 1842. It is very likely that he meant to write May 1842 instead which would match with the other accounts. In the account he writes:
Strange EventsHeber C. Kimball – June [May] 1842 account
June [May] 1842. I [Heber C. Kimball] was aniciated [initiated] into the ancient order[,] was washed and annointed and Sealled and ordained a Preast, and so forth in company with nine others, Viz. Jos[e]ph Smith, Hiram Smith, W[illiam. Law, W[illia]m. Marks, Judge [James] Adams, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, George Miller, N[ewel]. K. Whitney
This agrees exactly with all the other pieces of information we have. Either everyone got together and formed a vast conspiracy, that would only make sense many years later, or the truth is rather simple. The ancient order was the new priesthood that was being introduced to the few insiders which was the sole purpose for the Anointed Quorum.
Another piece of evidence is that according to Lodge records and Joseph’s journal on March 15th, 1842, Joseph was inducted into freemasonry and joined the Nauvoo masonic lodge. The next day he and Sidney were both raised to the highest order in masonry that of Master Mason. Being a mason, Joseph would of course be familiar with the words, symbols, signs, and tokens used in masonry. It is certainly telling that so much of the endowment borrowed from masonry, including the masonic five points of fellowship which was used until 1990. In fact, a June 17th, 1842, letter from Heber C. Kimball mentioned a teaching from Joseph that masonry was in fact a degenerated version of the holy priesthood. Heber C. Kimball wrote:
We have organised a Lodge here. of Masons. since we obtained a charter. that was in March since that thare has near two hundred been made masons[.] Br Joseph and Sidny was the first that was Recieved in to the Lodg. all of the twelve have become members Except Orson P. he Hangs back. he will wake up soon, thare is a similarity.of preast Hood in masonry. Br Joseph ses masonary was taken from preast Hood but has become degennated. but menny things are perfect.Heber C. Kimball – Letter to Parley P. Pratt – Transcript
Why would Joseph say the priesthood was similar to masonry if Joseph wasn’t even concerning himself with things of that nature? Why were so many of the leaders of the church also masons and why do we not think this would influence their thoughts and ideas?
The next key point to consider is that the March 15th 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons featured an excerpt from the Book of Abraham where the second facsimile was reproduced and represented. This was published about two months before the purported event in the upper floor of the Red Brick Store. The article reads:
God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority … representing, also, the grand Key words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed … to all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.Times and Seasons – March 15th 1842
This would certainly reinforce the idea that Joseph felt signs, key words, and tokens were needed in order to become more like God. Certainly, Joseph was sayings that special words were revealed and will be revealed. Is this not consistent with everything we know about the LDS temple endowment?
Another point to consider is Cutlerite branch of the restoration movement, which is officially named The Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite) and was founded by Alpheus Cutler. Alpheus was an incredibly important person in the late Nauvoo era of the church. He was most notable for being a member of the Nauvoo High Council, a member of the Council of Fifty, and was the individual responsible for choosing the location of Winter Quarters. He was very much involved in the activities of the church after the death of Joseph.
There was some animosity that developed between Alpheus, during his mission to the Lamanities, and some of the apostles. On April 20th, 1851, Alpheus was excommunicated from the church because he didn’t recognize Brigham as the legitimate leader of the church. However Brigham Young still continued to write to him and request that he rejoin the main body and offer to smooth things over with him. Alpheus declined these invitations from Brigham.
The noteworthy aspect of this however is that on September 19th, 1853, Alpheus organized a branch of the LDS church known as The Church of Jesus Christ. The ordinances for this church included baptisms for the dead and an endowment ceremony. This would of course be strange if Alpheus thought the Endowment originated with Brigham, and he would certainly know from his activities on the High Council and Council of Fifty. In honesty though, Alpheus purportedly received his Endowment under Joseph on October 12th, 1843, and then again under Brigham on December 11th, 1845. It is certainly possible he could have copied it from Brigham, however again he didn’t recognize Brigham has having valid authority so this wouldn’t make much sense.
Finally, in the April 28th, 1842, address to the Relief Society, which was looked at previously, Joseph specifically mentions that he had little time left and wanted to impart things to the church before he was called away by God. This is less than one week before the supposed initial Endowment on May 4th, 1842. Eliza R. Snow recorded that Joseph said:
He said as he had this opportunity, he was going to instruct the Society and point out the way for them to conduct, that they might act according to the will of God— that he did not know as he should have many opportunities of teaching them— that they were going to be left to themselves,— they would not long have him to instruct them— that the church would not have his instruction long, and the world would not be troubled with him a great while, and would not have his teachings— He spoke of delivering the keys to this Society and to the church— that according to his prayers God had appointed him elsewhereRelief Society Meeting Minutes
From this it is clear that Joseph felt that his time was coming to an end, and he needed to wrap things up with the church. It would certainly be conceivable that he could institute a masonic based initial Endowment a week later in the upper floor of the Red Brick Store. This is especially true if Joseph himself felt that masonry was at least a basis for the true order of the priesthood as Heber C. Kimball claimed Joseph taught. Thinking that this was not possible is totally inconsistent with numerous pieces of evidence.
May 5th Endowment
Starting at about the 1:13 minute mark, Michelle starts talking about a supposed meeting the day after the initial endowment meeting on the 4th. She shows how there is very little evidence to support this claim and I agree with her. The journal entry for that day is certainly incomplete with no conclusive evidence either way.
As Michelle mentioned, if the 4th happened then the 5th very likely happened. Conversely, if the 4th didn’t happen then the 5th would also very likely not have happened. The pattern though of someone giving an ordinance and then receiving it is entirely consistent with scripture.
In the 1838 account of Joseph’s First Vision, Joseph recorded that in May of 1829 he and Oliver Cowdrey were working on the translation of the Book of Mormon. They came across a reference to baptism and went into the woods to inquire of God concerning this idea. In consequence of the prayer given, it is recorded that John the Baptist appeared to them and ordained them both to the Aaronic Priesthood.
After this ordination Joseph mentioned that he then baptized Oliver and Oliver then baptized Joseph. This account was also published in the August 1st, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons and appears to be the first published account of Joseph’s First Vision. It is strange today to think that something that we talk about so much in the church was virtually unknown to the members for almost the entire history of the church during the life of Joseph.
This pattern is also entirely consistent with the introduction of the Melchizedek Priesthood at the Morley Farm conference in June 1831. During this conference, Lyman Wight recorded, in an 1857 letter to Willford Woodruff, that he was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood by Joseph and then Lyman in turn ordained Joseph, Sidney, and sixteen other people. John Whitmer also describes this event in his 1838 history of the church. Lyman recorded:
On the 4th of June 1831, a conference was held at Kirtland, … and here for the first time I saw the Melchisedec priesthood introduced into the church of Jesus Christ as anciently; whereunto I was ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith, and I then ordained Joseph and Sidney and sixteen others such as he chose unto the same priesthood.Lyman Wight – Letter to Willford Woodruff
One last piece of evidence is found in the Nauvoo “Book of Anointings” which is a dedicated book during the Nauvoo era that listed the second anointings that were performed during that time. This book seems to be unavailable to researchers however Andrew Ehat, whom Michelle references several times, had access to this book and quoted from it in his amazing Master’s thesis. He records that the Nauvoo book reads:
The order in which the ordinances of the Lords house are at all times first communicated to the children of men [is] that he who holds the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to minister to men on earth . . . should confer the ordinances upon some faithful man who should in turn minister to him according to the pattern of heavenly things.Book of Anointings – pg 2
Thus again, this pattern is entirely consistent with scripture and the way that God has worked in the past and continues to work in the future. It is certainly not a stretch to think that it could also happen in the Red Brick Store.
Joseph Told Not to Write It
Starting at about the 1:15 minute mark, Michelle begins to discuss her third core point that there is no contemporary evidence for “this”, as she refers to the previous two points, because Joseph told individuals to not write it down. As was looked at, at the very start was the idea that the lack of evidence doesn’t mean anything one way or the other.
Certainly, indicating that Joseph told individuals to not write the endowment down or references to it because it was too sacred, seems like a red herring to me. If it’s not written down, then how could we prove it? If I tell you my breakfast was too sacred to write about then does that mean I didn’t eat breakfast?
I do agree with Michelle, that the early church typically kept excellent records which are so very helpful to us today. I also think the Kirtland Elder’s Quorum Record should be part of the Joseph Smith Papers project. It also would certainly be logically consistent to expect them to keep records of the endowments if it happened. However, this is not how the real-world works. It is very important to remember that the Kirtland church was fundamentally a different organization than the Nauvoo one was. This is for several reasons which everyone can come to their own conclusions about.
If we look at evidence though we can see quite clearly that in 1844 Joseph formed a secret organization called the Council of Fifty, where each member was required to take an oath of secrecy concerning all the activities of the group with a penalty of death. The minutes for March 11th, 1844 state:
Elder Lucien Woodworth was very sanguine for the measure to be carried into effect. He said he had long desired it and now inasmuch as it had been proposed to organize this meeting into a council he was in favor of its being organized on an eternal principle after the order of God, every member of it to be bound to eternal secrecy as to what passed here, not to have the privilege of telling anything which might be talked of to any person even to our wives, and the man who broke the rule “should lose his cursed head”. Prest. Joseph gave much instructions on many subjects & laid down the order of organization after the pattern of heavenCouncil of Fifty meeting minutes – March 11th 1844
The previous day March 10th, 1844, Joseph attended an afternoon meeting with the same group of individuals in the Council of Fifty where he directly requested secrecy from the group. All in the group consented. The record reads:
Joseph asked. can this council keep what I say. not make it Public— all held up their hands.Joseph Smith Journal – March 10th, 1844
Based on these statements, the very secret Council of Fifty, and the Quorum of the Anointed which was another secret group in Navoo, then it seems entirely possible that not writing down or actively hiding records is consistent with the operations of the time. In fact, it seems that the minutes for the Council of Fifty were specifically instructed to be burned by Joseph. Honestly, why would this be necessary? The council of fifty minutes for March 14th, 1844, read:
When this [name of group] was given there was a general feeling of joy and gratitude ran through the brethren, every heart was satisfied and we had a season of rejoicing before the Lord. It was considered wisdom to burn the minutes in consequence of treachery and plots of designing men.Council of Fifty – March 14th, 1844
The Council of Fifty minutes also includes another incredibly important instance where Joseph specifically indicated that records should be either hidden or destroyed. The account for June 22nd, 1844, indicates:
He [Joseph] sent for the Clerk of this council at the same hour and ordered me [Clayton] either to burn the records of the kingdom, or put them in some safe hands and send them away or else bury them up. I returned home and immediately put the records in a small box and buried them in my garden.Council of Fifty – June 22nd, 1844
It is also important to note that the personal journal for William Clayton notes the same exact event. This was about one month before the death of Joseph and the church was under extreme persecution. They had many traitors in their midst and situations were changing rapidly. The entire purpose of the Council of Fifty was to escape this situation so it is completely understandable that Joseph wanted the existence of this group to remain hidden. It is very valuable for us today that William Clayton chose to hide the records instead of destroying them. However, as we know, many previous records were destroyed therefore it is frankly silly to conclude that the lack of records, at this time in the church, means anything at all.
Michelle then concludes the section by referencing Occam’s razor to deduce that since she didn’t find evidence to support her points 1 and 2, then that means that it couldn’t have happened and was instead a vast conspiracy by Brigham Young and cohorts. I agree with her that Brigham changed history for his “new order of things”. I would imagine he felt a bit insecure and wanted to bolster his claim to the throne so to speak. In my view he wasn’t the rightful successor of Joseph, and I am sure he realized the issues he faced. Throughout history, we have seen numerous leaders do this. This absolutely makes church history a mind field and very difficult to traverse.
However, it doesn’t mean that Brigham went into the past and changed everything unless of course he was a time traveler. Wouldn’t it be far more consistent to conclude that since Joseph was talking about key words, signs, and tokens being needed for access to God, masonry being a perverted form of priesthood, and was a member of secret groups, and felt his time was short, that Joseph then would introduce a masonic ceremony with these signs and tokens to a few individuals? That to me seems far simpler than a vast conspiracy of altering personal journals and hidden records that Brigham didn’t have access to.
Upper Floor of Red Brick Store
Starting at about the 1:25 minute mark, Michelle begins to discuss her longest point. That is on May 3rd, 1842, Joseph had the upper floor of the Red Brick Store converted into a garden motif in preparation of the activities on the 4th and 5th which we previously looked at. Michelle begins the section by stating that only a single record of this event exists which is completely false. However, I do agree with her that there seems to be no contemporary record.
The record Michelle focuses on is the account of Lucius Scovil, which we will look at, however there are at least 2 other accounts that I was able to find. The first account is from Lucius Scovil, which Michelle mentioned, and was published in the February 11th, 1884, edition of the Deseret Evening News along with the February 20th, 1884, edition of the Desert News. In this account Lucius clearly mentions that he was present and helped arrange the upper floor of the Red Brick Store. Of course, we should take into account that it was about 40 years later, and I am not suggesting otherwise. Lucius wrote:
We therefore went to work making the necessary preparations and everything was arranged representing the interior of a temple as much as the circumstances would permit, he being with us dictating everythingLucius Scovil
As Michelle mentioned, this is 42 years after the event and is most certainly influenced by many things that transpired during those years. However, this doesn’t automatically mean it is false. Michelle then makes a claim that because her and her mother can’t remember something 40 years in the past then it is logically inconsistent to imagine that Lucius could. I completely understand what Michelle is meaning with this. However, it is entirely missing the point and is frankly quite misleading.
In a 2020 study, researchers studied elderly individuals and found unsurprisingly that general memory fades as we get older, however what we do in fact remember is about 95% accurate. Therefore, if we remember something then it is almost certain that it happened, and the details are accurate. Of course, this doesn’t account for intentional falsehoods which is a completely different subject.
Another completely missed point is that we generally today have horrendous memories simply because we off load our memories to electronic devices. I don’t need to remember locations because a digital map will tell me. I don’t need to remember appointments because my digital calendar will tell me. I don’t need to remember stories because my digital device will tell me. We are inundated, with mostly pointless information, and it certainly shows in our memory today. Researchers have studied the aboriginal people and found that they have developed patterns and practices that have allowed them to retain a detailed cultural history which is passed down through oral traditions. Therefore, it is certainly logical to conclude that humans are capable of remembering things long in the past.
Michelle then continues to strongly suggest through numerous innuendos that Lucius had strong motivations to lie about the event. This is certainly true. However, it is frankly true of all of us. If there is evidence of a lie, then we should consider it. If there is not, then we should consider the evidence itself.
Michelle then asserts that the account of Lucius contradicts the journal of Joseph Smith for May 3rd, 1842. However, this is not true at all. As she showed the journal is incredibly vague which is actually much more helpful to the case than a detailed account of other activities would be. I do want to be clear though that vague language like “with his family” is certainly not an indication of anything one way or the other and I am not suggesting that it is. If I wanted to obscure something though, then I would very likely write a general statement like that.
In reference to the final point on Lucius’ account, Michelle focuses on Joseph’s store daybook which is actually quite clever. It is unclear to me why she chose June 18th, 1842, as that is obviously in the future from the event in question. I absolutely could have missed something pertaining to this which I would freely admit.
Michelle does however conclude that since there are no records of Lucius purchasing things then it would suggest that he did in fact not purchase things. Of course, this is back to the original argument where a lack of evidence is not evidence itself. It also misses the point that the Red Brick Store was the focal point of Nauvoo almost immediately after it was finished in 1841. The church would regularly have meetings there in many different capacities including an active masonic lodge. The Joseph Smith Papers Project summarizes the various uses of the upper room as follows:
This room served at times as a school, courtroom, and meeting room for both civic and religious groups. These included Nauvoo’s Masonic lodge, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, and the Council of Fifty.Joseph Smith Papers Project
Therefore, based on the numerous uses for the upper rooms then the idea that there were no supplies, that were readily available, to partition areas off seems highly unlikely.
In addition to Lucius’ account of this event, there is another account from Dimick Huntington who Lucius mentioned as being present at the time though Dimick doesn’t mention Lucius. This account is dated as of December 12th, 1878 which is 6 years earlier than the Lucius account. Dimick was the Tyler or doorkeeper to the Nauvoo masonic lodge. Today that sounds unimportant to us, however every lodge was expected to have a Tyler to ensure their proceedings were kept confidential. This was a critical line of defense between the inside and outside worlds of masonry. Dimick’s account reads:
Prepared the masonic lodge room in the brick store chamber for the first endewments[;] took some bars of lead to hold up the tre[e]s of the garden and a piece of carpet for a curtain[,] Joseph Smith giving directions how to prepare all things[.] the masonic lodge met nights and he [Joseph Smith] used the room days for endrements[.] one night after work was over in the lodge [and he] was through working old brother [Asahel] Perry the tyler sayed a brother wises to enter let him enter[;] George A Smith was the master[.] Joseph Smith entered strode up and down the lodge saying hallahjuh halolijah hullahujah sayed h[e] I have done what king Solamon King Hiram and Hiram Abbif could not do[:] I have set up the Kingdom no more to be thrown down forever nor never to be given to another peopleDimick B Huntington statement
This account agrees with the Lucius account and many other pieces of evidence. Dimick died about 2 months after this account was given and might have felt motivated to finalize things in his life. Certainly, two month before my death I wouldn’t want to falsely agree with an already established narrative.
Michelle then focuses on some more minor sources which really have nothing important to discuss concerning them. However, during the last source she focuses on, which is John C. Bennett’s, History of the Saints, she again completely misses the mark and entirely confuses the importance of the information presented. It is important to keep in mind that Bennett does seem to have an axe to grind because of how he was treated by Joseph and the church. However, this doesn’t negate everything he says. It is not logical consistent to conclude that either everything he says is true or nothing is at all.
Michelle, during her analysis, does correctly highlight the absurdity of the information presented in Bennett’s Expose. However, she misses the important fact that it was done in 1842 which is incredibly significant. This is of course during the time when the events were reported to have occurred and would have been talked about among the participants. Michelle concludes that since Bennett left the church, and Nauvoo, shortly after the purported event then he couldn’t have known the details. However, this is not accurate at all as we will see.
If we look at Bennett’s account though and reduce it to the very high-level details, then things become much clearer. Bennett is claiming:
- Joseph is administering a secret masonic based ordinance
- The upper floor of the Red Brick Store is converted to a garden setting
- The candidate is given signs and tokens
- The candidate is given a special garment
Certainly, in Bennett’s record there seems to be many embellishments, which are likely to sensationalize the account, however the major details are surprisingly accurate according to the other accounts. This would definitely suggest that either Bennett was making everything up and others copied his major details, including Brigham Young in 1845, or that he was getting correct information from some insider source. I am not sure how else Bennett could be so accurate about the general details.
According to Andrew Ehat, the researcher Michelle referenced multiple times, this insider was very likely George Robinson who was the son-in-law of Sidney Rigdon. As we know, Sidney was in the First Presidency and was an insider to the churches dealings but had a tumultuous relationship with Joseph at times. In his comprehensive study on the origins of the temple ordinances, Andrew Ehat concludes:
Bennett was apparently getting his information about the Quorum through George Robinson, son-in-law to Sidney Rigdon. Perhaps William Marks or William Law briefly mentioned to Sidney Rigdon, a member of the First Presidency, the nature of the Quorum. Possibly smarting because he was not a member of the Quorum even though he was a member of the Church’s highest ecclesiastical quorum, Sidney Rigdon told Robinson what he had learned, who in turn passed it on to BennettAndrew Ehat – Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question
Certainly, whether the Red Brick Store was used for the initial endowment is uncertain. However, it is completely in the realm of possibility that it could happen. If the Endowment was performed in the upper room, then it is fundamentally different from doing it in the middle of Costco as Michelle claims it would be. However, if people were regularly using Costco for sacred large group, multi-purpose meetings, then I guess I could agree with her.
Michelle then concludes this section by making a few unsubstantiated claims about the workings of the Red Brick Store while suggesting that academics are dishonest for using unsubstantiated claims in misleading footnotes.
For instance, she claims the bottom level would have to have been inactive for the top level to be used. This is of course invalid. There is no reason to believe the store shut down every time there was, one of many meetings there. She then claims that Elders licenses for that day would have to be signed in the upper room, which of course is also invalid. There is no reason to believe they couldn’t have been signed in the bottom level or at any needed location at all. James Sloan, who signed the licenses, is not listed as one of the individuals who purportedly received their endowment on May 4th, 1842. Therefore, I see no reason to believe there is a conflict in this case. If something is regularly done one way, it is okay to change it slightly in specific cases.
Brigham Told to Organize and Improve Endowment
Starting at about the 2:09 minute mark, Michelle concludes her points by discussing how Brigham purportedly was asked by Joseph to improve the Endowment as Joseph wouldn’t be able to. Michelle begins by discussing the concept that God gives temples exactly and doesn’t fix things afterwards. I would generally agree with her on this. However, it is not technically accurate in all cases. For instance, when Nephi was building his ship, God showed him “from time to time”, how it was to be done. Therefore, we would expect there were consequential spans of time where Nephi was on his own. We also know that William Weeks, the architect of the Nauvoo temple, had meetings with Joseph which I seriously doubt were just to pass the time. However, I do agree with Michelle that it seems strange to tweak this and that constantly.
This claim is purportedly supported by the diary of L. John Nuttall which Michelle reads and discusses. I do agree that it seems rather convenient for Brigham to claim this and certainly fits in the self-aggrandizement we can see through the many other statements of Brigham. For the members of the time, Brigham could have claimed the moon was made of cheese and members would have organized themselves to collect some for their food storage. However, again just because we all have issues with Brigham this doesn’t mean we should outright reject the claim.
If we assume that all the claims are true, or at least mostly true, then it would be logically consistent to also assume this one as well. Things were changing rapidly in Nauvoo and the Kirtland church was being modified to resemble the Nauvoo church we know today. Conversely, if the previous claims are false then there would be no reason to believe this one either. It would entirely be in Brigham’s imagination.
However, if we analyze this independently then things become clearer. I will admit though that of all the claims this is the most difficult one because it is almost completely hearsay. However, from the King Follett discourse, which was given on April 7th, 1844, and published in the April 15th, 1844, edition of Times and Seasons, about 3 months before Joseph was killed, we know that Joseph was willing to change almost everything he previously taught.
In this discourse there are several doctrines that Joseph discusses that were previously thought of as heretical. Members today think of the ideas as being normal, however they were a serious departure of the ideas of the day. Therefore, why would we think that Joseph would think everything was set in stone once given? This is also clear to see if we compare the ideas of Joseph from Palmyra, to Kirtland, to Far West, to Nauvoo. There were clear stages of development, and every stage was notably different from the previous one.
In the early 1840’s, Brigham Young, at the time in the church, had a very important position as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve and acting president of the Council of Fifty, when Joseph was absent. It is no small claim to say that Brigham was very important to the church of his day. It is also important to keep in mind that the Council of Fifty was organized as God’s political kingdom on earth. Certainly, this was not the same group as the Anointed Quorum however there was massive overlap between the two groups with most members of the Anointed Quorum being members of the Council of Fifty as well, which did include Brigham Young.
In looking at the minutes of the Council of Fifty then it becomes apparent that the various decisions of the council were ratified by three signatures with their corresponding associated offices. The three were:
Joseph Smith Senior, President of the ChurchCouncil of Fifty – Meeting minutes
Brigham Young, President of the Twelve
Willard Richards, Clerk
It may seem slightly strange to refer to Joseph as a senior, however after the death of his father then he occasionally was since he also had a son named Joseph. However, it is clear that according to Joseph’s version of the Kingdom of God, that Brigham was a key component. It is also very telling that the Council of Fifty was not some random group because the individuals had nothing better to do. Their goal was to find a suitable location to establish a theocracy and place Joseph as the king of that government. The minutes for April 11th, 1844 read:
He concluded by offering a motion that this honorable assembly receive from this time henceforth and forever, Joseph Smith, as our Prophet, Priest & King … The motion was seconded and accepted unanimously. A motion was offered to take a second expression on Er Snows motion. … Er Rigdon then offered as an amendment that the above expression be received with Hossannas to God and the LambCouncil of Fifty – April 11th 1844
This may seem unrelated however these individuals were pledging their loyalty to the leader of the Council of Fifty who happened to be Joseph Smith at the time. However, after the death of Joseph the council met again on March 1st, 1845, to elect Brigham Young as the new prophet, priest and king in relation to the council. The minutes read:
The clerk then explained to the new members that president Joseph Smith was appointed standing chairman to this council. Since he was martyred Prest. Young has been chosen to take the place of Prest. Smith. The question was then asked “do you agree to sustain and uphold Prest. B. Young as the standing chairman and successor of Joseph Smith henceforth and forever.” The vote was taken of the new members & each voted in the affirmative.Council of Fifty – March 1st, 1845
The question was then asked, do you receive Prest. B. Young as successor of Prest. Joseph Smith and prophet, priest, and king to this kingdom forever after The vote was unamious in the affirmative. The clerk then stated the name and title of this kingdom and asked are they willing to accept the title All voted in the affirmative.
Therefore, in the eyes of the leaders of the church Brigham was the rightful prophet, priest, and king to succeed Joseph. He had all the authority and everything that was needed, in their eyes, to continue Joseph’s work. Now whether he did, or should have modified things, is a totally different question than whether he could or whether Joseph had asked him to do so.
I am actually not really sure why it matters at all whether Joseph asked Brigham to continue the endowment or not. If Joseph started the endowment, then it would make sense that Brigham would continue it, as the church was in a constant state of change already. If Joseph didn’t start the endowment, then it doesn’t make sense. The only question to ask would be Joseph’s relationship to the endowment, not whether Joseph asked anyone to continue it.
Starting at about the 2:19 minute mark, Michelle then begins to summarize her research by insulting the integrity of the church historians and claims their motivations are “either wishful thinking and motivated reasoning or outright dishonesty”. I do agree with her that the individual sources themselves are not very great. It would be incredibly valuable if Joseph’s journal was much more specific. However, it is not, and we have to work with what we’ve got. If it was more specific though, she would likely question the authenticity of the record since the scribe was Willard Richards.
She clearly falls into the same trap that she is claiming others have fallen into. We all, me included, see what we want to see, and she doesn’t want to see what is right in front of her. The only way she can reach her conclusions is to completely ignore numerous pieces of information and instead focus on specifics. Yes of course, certain pieces of information are not great. However, there is a reason that researchers, like Andrew Ehat in his paper on this subject, use over 700 hundred sources to make a claim, instead of 5 that she analyzed.
This is the same logic that a prosecutor uses in a criminal trial. They don’t go to court with a handful of evidence, claim the truth is obvious, and anyone who disagrees with them is dishonest. They go to court with many pieces of evidence that all point in a specific direction. This direction then is as good as if it was spelled out explicitly.
Michelle then continues to describe a “huge source” that she implies that church historians intentionally didn’t use. This source is a July 8th 1844, letter from Brigham Young to Willard Richards. She asserts that because these two individuals purportedly had already been exposed to the endowment then the language between them should be different. I can understand her claim however she is limiting the scope of the quote she uses in order to make a certain point. If you expand the quote though it is clear that the meaning is very different than that which she concludes.
I want to see you and the rest of the Bretherin in Nauvoo. Give my best love to Brothers Joseph [and] Hyram. I cannot be there to see them but I Pray for them continualy, and for you and all the Bretherin in our beloved Citty and I pray my Hevenly Father to preserve my Bretherin my famely and the hol citty. I pray that we may finish the Temple and get our indowment.Brigham Young – Letter to Willard Richards – Transcript
From the full quote it is quite clear that Brigham is referring to more than just himself and Willard. Brigham refers to Brethren which could be anyone, then his family, then the entire city. Immediately after that Brigham then writes, “that we may finish the temple”. Who is the ‘we’ in question here? It is certainly not him and Willard only. That would only make sense if they were the ones building the temple by themselves. I seriously doubt Brigham did any of the construction himself.
Using the limited quote though seems to be pure academic dishonesty. Michelle is using a partial quote, in a sentimental way, when the full quote actually negates her conclusion. This quote though seems to offer incredibly strong support for the case that Brigham Young and Willard Richards were not in a conspiratorial coup against Joseph and Hyrum, like some are now claiming. According to Michelle, historians ignore this letter because it contradicts everything they claim. The letter though is quoted directly in History of the Church Volume 7 page 210. I seriously doubt anyone is hiding anything.
Starting at about the 2:33 minute mark, Michelle concludes her overview by describing the flaws in the LDS narrative and how even if the sources were true then the narrative would not be. She begins this by stating that since the endowment uses dedicated rooms, and Brigham used partitions in the attic of the Nauvoo temple instead of rooms, then the Endowment can’t be a creation of Joseph. This claim actually exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation.
Immediately after the death of Joseph, the Nauvoo temple was nowhere near complete. I would imagine the members realized something was seriously wrong with their situation. As a result, they increased their efforts to finish the temple, however it was still a long time before it was in any kind of shape to be used. The first endowment was given almost one and a half years later on December 10th, 1845, in the attic as Michelle mentioned. However, the attic was used because it was the only place that they could focus on and complete in time. There are accounts, in 1845, of individuals being surprised the Endowment was in the attic, however this makes sense considering the state of the Nauvoo temple at the time.
The Nauvoo temple though, was absolutely huge for a building of that time with each story measuring about 11,000 sq ft. The building had two very large assembly halls, two mezzanines, a basement, and an attic. In total there were more than 40 individual rooms and of course plenty of space. The issue though was its size, complexity, and at various times the limited skilled workman to assist William Weeks who was the architect. The attic was used, not because Brigham loved partitions, but because there was a constant stream of laborers in the floors below.
The second point Michelle references, in this section, is that because we know there were oaths of vengeance in the Endowment, then Joseph couldn’t have authored it since he wouldn’t have created an oath to avenge himself. I frankly don’t understand this. We already know that Brigham altered the endowment. Michelle is concluding that since Brigham altered it then Joseph couldn’t have authored it. This really makes no sense. Of course, Joseph could have created it and then Brigham later changed it to include the oath of vengeance. We have seen numerous changes to the Endowment over the years. In fact, President Nelson changed the Endowment earlier this year so does that mean we can claim anything about the authorship of the Endowment?
The next point Michelle makes in this section is a valid one, where she questions why the ordinances would have to be redone in the Nauvoo temple if they were already done previously. Today we strictly adhere to the philosophy that we get an ordinance once and it is eternally binding. However, this is not how things were understood in the past. They would in fact potentially get an ordinance numerous times or at least as many times as they felt they needed it. In the book, The Story of the Latter-Day Saints it reads:
For many years [in the nineteenth century] it had been common for members to rededicate themselves to building up the Kingdom through rebaptism. This practice was not considered essential to salvation but was a symbol of rededication. On other occasions the saints were rebaptized as a symbolic gesture related to blessings for their health, entry into the United Order, preparation for marriage, and even for going to the temple if they had not been there for some time.The Story of the Latter-Day Saints – quoted in The Practice of Rebaptism at Nauvoo
The most notable case of rebaptism would likely be that of Emma who was dangerously sick in late 1842. In Joseph’s journal on October 5th, 1842, it records that Joseph baptized Emma twice that day for her health which greatly improved. She was then baptized again for her health about a month later, on November 1st, 1842, in the Nauvoo temple font. By no means was Emma the only one. There are several accounts of individuals being rebaptized for various purposes. I would honestly think that rebaptism today would also be a very beneficial practice for the LDS people. It is amazing how common practices of the past are seen as heretical and strange today.
The last point Michelle makes is that the Endowment is unscriptural. She uses this to conclude that because of this then Joseph wouldn’t have introduced it. I completely agree with her that there is a profound lack of scriptural foundation for the endowment. However, I frankly disagree that this means Joseph wouldn’t have introduced the Endowment.
The fundamental assumption though that Michelle is making is that since Joseph was a prophet then, everything he ever taught is true. There is honestly no scriptural foundation for a claim like this. A prophet can teach a true thing today and a false thing tomorrow. In fact, Joseph seemed to have even dropped a major hint in a May 26th, 1842, discourse to the Relief Society. In that talk Joseph referenced Ezekiel 14, which is very significant, and then mentioned they were depending on the prophet too much. The record reads:
Prest. J. Smith rose, read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel— said the Lord had declar’d by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men … that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls—app[l]ied it to the present state of the church of Latter-Day Saints— said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall— that they were depending on the prophet hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselvesJoseph Smith – May 26th 1842
I sadly can’t get into the many scriptural deviations of the church at this point. However, there are many points where the teachings of the early church deviated from a firm scriptural foundation. This includes changing the meaning of being sealed to God, changing the character and nature of God, and teaching that there were signs, tokens, and keywords that we could learn as we progress in the Priesthood. The last point is incredibly masonic; however, it is verified through several sources.
I completely agree with Michelle that the temple is a special place we can go to in order to commune with God. I used to attend the Las Vegas temple weekly and feel that it was a special time in my life. The problem is though that some people think that the temple is the only place we can go to where we can commune with God.
I also completely agree with Michelle that God is always waiting and ready for us to repent and turn to him. He doesn’t care where we currently are as long as we are earnestly seeking him. He knows we are going to make terrible choices and fumble in the dark. Yet, he loves us anyways. I am thankful for the hymn I Stand All Amazed which reads:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,I Stand All Amazed
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
The more I have delved into various aspects of the Gospel, the more I have realized how the only thing that matters is Jesus. Focusing on Jesus and aligning ourselves with his simple pure doctrine has been the most beneficial thing for me personally. The Endowment may or may not be of God. However, I know that Jesus is the answer to everything. I want to echo Nephi’s words in 2 Nephi 33:
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.2 Nephi 33:6