In the LDS church we talk about the glorious times of the Kirtland Era and the many revelations Joseph received. We then talk about the prosperous Nauvoo era and equate it with the blessings of God. However, we generally don’t talk much about the time in the middle. I personally find it fascinating that the story of Adam and Even being cast out of the Garden and turned over to Satan echoes through almost every level of our Spiritual journey back to God. We are offered an option and then God lets us either advance towards him or suffer the consequences of rejecting him. It is so interesting that we can see this same behavior in the history of the LDS church.
The LDS church often highlights the persecution and perseverance of the early members of the church in order to show that we can endure and triumph also. Without a doubt, many of them suffered much for joining the church, and were unjustly persecuted because of their beliefs. The new religion was certainly seen as strange. The rapid movement of members to new areas was also seen as alarming to the existing residents. Therefore, I can see why there was some unjust animosity against the early church.
Elder Cook, in a recent General Conference talk titled, “Personal Peace in Challenging Times“, discussed this subject:
The lives of the Saints were threatened as the result of an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri. In addition, the Prophet Joseph and a few choice associates had been unjustly imprisoned in Liberty Jail. One of the reasons for the violent opposition to our members was most of them were opposed to slavery. This intense persecution of Joseph Smith and his followers constitutes an extreme example of the unrighteous exercise of agency that can impact righteous people.Elder Cook
It is very interesting to me that he connects the persecution of the early church, with their opposition to slavery. He may have been too busy to research this however there were actually several members of the church who owned slaves and in fact took their slaves with them as they moved from place to place. During the Nauvoo era, members were asked to sacrifice some time to help build the temple. One family who owned a slave named, Green Flake, is documented as using him to fulfill this requirement. This is like being asked to help move a new family in and instead of helping them you call a moving company. It certainly makes sense, however, is entirely missing the point.
In addition to this, Joseph Smith published a statement in the April 1836 Messenger and Advocate which was quite clearly pro slavery. He said:
After having expressed myself so freely upon this subject [of slavery] … It is my privilege then to name certain passages from the Bible, and examine the teachings of the ancients upon the matter as the fact is uncontrovertible [sic] that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible … And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude. … The Scripture stands for itself; and I believe that these men were better qualified to teach the will of God, than all the abolitionists in the world.Joseph Smith
Another LDS leader, President Monson, in an October 2009 talk titled, “School They Feelings, O My Brother” discussed his understanding of the reasons behind the violence and persecution against the early church. He mentioned it was Thomas B. Marsh’s fault because he was upset about milk and cream.
Elder Thomas B. Marsh, who sided with his wife through all of this, became angrier with each successive decision—so angry, in fact, that he went before a magistrate and swore that the Mormons were hostile toward the state of Missouri. His affidavit led to—or at least was a factor in—Governor Lilburn Boggs’s cruel extermination order, which resulted in over 15,000 Saints being driven from their homes, with all the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. All of this occurred because of a disagreement over the exchange of milk and cream.President Monson
Elder Marsh did swear an affidavit however it wasn’t because of milk and cream. It was because of literal bad behavior by members of the church. It honestly makes me a little angry to even hear someone say this story because it is so wildly false. There is literally not a single historical document to support this claim. It was just made up one day by George A. Smith in an April 1856 General Conference talk. The fictional story is used today to show that we all must be careful even high-level apostles like Marsh. However, in reality the story only shows how easily we can be fooled. Even today I have shared how that story is false and some don’t believe me because a church leader has used the story in their talks.
Redemption of Zion
As of 1834, the church was starting to grow in Kirtland, Ohio, the temple was under construction, and Joseph was attempting to start settlements in Missouri, which was the prophesied location of Zion. However, he was meeting stiff resistance from the local residents. On August 16th, 1834, Joseph received a very interesting revelation, which he wrote as a letter to the High Council, concerning the redemption of Zion. In this revelation God tells Joseph that September 11th, 1836, was the day appointed for the redemption of his people. The revelation states:
Use every effort to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions and situate themselves to be in readiness to move into Jackson County in two years from the 11th of September next which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion…Verily I say unto you, if the church with one united effort perform their duties; if they do this, the work shall be complete…
Now, my beloved brethren, you will learn by this we have a great work to do, and but little time to do it in; and if we do not exert ourselves to the utmost in gathering up the strength of the Lord’s house that this thing may be accomplished, behold there remaineth a scourge for the Church, even that they shall be driven from city to city, and but few shall remain to receive an inheritance; if those things are not kept, there remaineth a scourge also; therefore, be wise this once, O ye children of Zion! and give heed to my counsel, saith the Lord.Redemption of Zion revelation
September 11th, 1836 came and nothing notable happened. There certainly was no redemption of Zion as Joseph said there would be if the churches worked together to “perform their duties”. In fact, if we look at the history then we can see that shortly after this in 1838 the members were violently removed from Kirtland, then Far West, then Nauvoo, and then settled in Utah. They were certainly driven from “city to city” as Joseph said they would if they didn’t redeem Zion. It was actually after September 11th, 1836 that the churches troubles really began.
This corresponds exactly with D&C 103:5-8, which Joseph received in 1834, which states:
But verily I say unto you, that I have decreed a decree which my people shall realize, inasmuch as they hearken from this very hour unto the counsel which I, the Lord their God, shall give unto them. Behold they shall, for I have decreed it, begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour. And by hearkening to observe all the words which I, the Lord their God, shall speak unto them, they shall never cease to prevail until the kingdoms of the world are subdued under my feet, and the earth is given unto the saints, to possess it forever and ever. But inasmuch as they keep not my commandments, and hearken not to observe all my words, the kingdoms of the world shall prevail against them.D&C 103:5-8
From history we have very clear evidence that the members of the early church did not prevail against their enemies “from this very hour” and in fact their enemies prevailed against them. They did not listen to God and did not redeem Zion. God said a definitive unambiguous statement that only has one conclusion to the church in our time. Today however the church spins this whole time period as a time of testing or spiritual development. However, in reality it was a time of rejection from what the church could have been. This is very similar to the Israelites rejecting the higher law Moses had for them and then delighting in the lower law as a sign of divine love. Being cast out and rejected is not something to rejoice about ever.
By late 1836, the population of Kirtland and the surrounding areas had almost tripled in the span of 5 years. This rapid growth of the church combined with the call to physically gather resulted in land quickly rising in value. In 1830 the average price of land in Kirtland was about $6, however in 1837 it skyrocketed to over $44. This is essentially a 100% return on your investment every year. This of course did not go unnoticed, and many would buy up land only to sell it to newly arrived members at inflated prices. Even leaders of the church were documented as buying lands with church funds, then selling it to new arrivals, and keeping the profit for themselves. Eliza Snow noticed this and wrote:
A spirit of speculation had crept into the hearts of some of the Twelve, and nearly, if not every quorum was more or less infected. … As the Saints drank in the love and spirit of the world, the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from their hearts, and they were filled with pride and hatred toward those who maintained their integrity.Eliza Snow
After observing this growing apostasy in the church Joseph received a revelation from God which stated things need to start being different:
Some of the Twelve were so far lost to their high and responsible calling, as to begin to take sides, secretly, with the enemy. … God revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of His Church. And on or about the 1st of June, 1837, Heber C. Kimball, one of the Twelve, was set apart by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, prayer and laying on of hands, of the First Presidency, to preside over a mission to England, to be the first foreign mission of the Church of Christ in the last days.Joseph Smith
Since the Gospel was rejected by the members in the United States then God revealed to Joseph that in order for the church to not wither and die then it needed the strength of the European converts which would come later when it was needed. It is amazing to consider that more than 98% of those that travelled west to Salt Lake were European converts. This means that without the strength of these members then the church would have withered and died.
Interestingly, this is exactly what the scriptures said would happen according to Jacob 5. The wild branches were grafted into the tree so that the roots wouldn’t die. However, later in the chapter we learn that the Master is still upset because the entire tree is now producing wild fruit. Again, this is what we see today. The church is producing wild fruit with no signs of divine acceptance.
In 1837, Thomas B. Marsh who was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve went to Far West Missouri under the direction of Joseph Smith and forcibly assumed leadership from David Whitmer the current Stake President. As I showed in the article and video, “The Proper Organization of the Church“, this is entirely against the revealed laws of God. It however didn’t seem to matter to the leadership at the time. David Whitmer was one of the original members of the church, helped Joseph when no one else would, and was a stalwart man of God. Yet he was officially excommunicated in 1837 for violating the Word of Wisdom, meeting with “Kirtland apostates“, and speaking unfavorably about Joseph.
This spirit of lawlessness, from the church leadership, resulted in a growing divide between many in the church including Oliver Cowdrey and Joseph Smith. Shortly after the takeover of the Far West stake, Oliver was excommunicated from the church along with the entire Whitmer family. Anyone who opposed the Far West coup was also excommunicated from the church for apostasy. In response, many others just simply left the church because they no longer felt it was inspired of God.
After being excommunicated from the church, Oliver and many others remained in the general area of Far West, Missouri since they owned businesses or property in the area. This resulted in a general feeling of animosity between members and non-members. This animosity eventually reached a boiling point which resulted in Sidney Rigdon delivering his famous salt sermon.
John Corrill wrote in 1839 a brief history of the church and summarized the sermon with these words:
President Rigden delivered from the pulpit what I call the salt sermon; “If the salt have lost its savour, it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men,” was his text, and although he did not call names in his sermon, yet it was plainly understood that he meant that dissenters, or those who had denied the faith, ought to be cast out, and literally trodden under foot. He, indirectly, accused some of them with crime.John Corrill – A Brief History of the Church
I have only been able to find small quotes of the Salt Sermon, however from what I have found Sydney said concerning those that dissent from the church:
It is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth … or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hang them up … it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation.Sydney Rigdon
This is utter madness considering the lawlessness of the leaders of the church, and that Sydney Rigdon is supposed to be speaking for God. This would be like Jesus leading an armed revolution against the Pharisees of his day. It makes sense from the perspective of men, however, it is totally contrary to the laws of heaven. I would imagine this spirit of maliciousness, against those that disagree, is part of the foundation for the later blood atonement doctrine from Brigham Young.
John Corrill continues his narration of the history by stating:
This sermon had the desired effect. Excitement was produced, in the church, and, suffice it to say that, in three or four days, several of the dissenters became much alarmed, and fled from the place in great fright, and their families soon followed, but their property was attached for debt. Necessity compelled others of the dissenters to confess and give satisfaction to the church. This scene I looked upon with horror, and considered it as proceeding from a mob spirit.John Corrill – A Brief History of the Church
Less than one week after the Salt Sermon, a secret band of Mormon vigilantes was formed and called themselves the Danites. This secret fraternal group was named after the prophecy in Daniel 2 which mentioned the stone cut without hands that rolled forth to fill the whole earth. This group felt it was their responsibility to assist the leadership of the church to fill the entire earth with the Kingdom of God, by force if necessary.
The Danite group operated like an open secret. Everyone knew of their existence, but the full extent was unknown. Members are recorded as taking a blood oath, “to support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong.” The full membership is contested, however from the available records we know that the members included prominent people such as Porter Rockwell, John D. Lee, of the Mountain Meadows Massacre infamy, and Hyrum Smith. It is unclear to what extent Joseph Smith was involved with the Danites however in his personal journal he wrote:
We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of every great evil which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons [sic]Joseph Smith
This certainly implies some degree of the knowledge concerning the group and their malicious objectives. It is unclear to me why Joseph felt it was permissible to “cleanse the church” by force, however. The Danite Manifesto itself, issues a solemn decree to anyone dissenting from the church that they must leave or essentially accept death at the hands of the members. It states:
We have solemnly warned you, and that in the most determined manner, that if you do not cease that course of wanton abuse of the citizens of this county, that vengeance would overtake you sooner or later, … unless you heed us this time, and attend to our request, it will overtake you at an hour when you do not expect, and at a day when you do not look for it; and for you there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you.Danite Manifesto
Again, it is helpful to keep in mind that these are members of the church who are supposedly trying to be like Jesus in word and deed. This would be equivalent today to high level leaders of the LDS church issuing a statement against a random ideological group and then leading a rallying cry for their murder. We can’t even imagine the ridiculousness of such behavior however it is all documented historically. Jesus taught “turn the other cheek” and it seems the early church in 1838 taught “stab the other cheek”.
The dissenters were promised 3 days’ time, where they could get their affairs in order and leave. After this they were promised that if they remained then these fatal calamities would fall upon them. The Salt Sermon and the Danite Manifesto resulted in the vast majority of the dissenters fleeing with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing. Without a doubt the members of the church at that time were caught up in a spirit of hatred, fear, and revenge. They were motivated by these feelings and had no room for the spirit of God as Eliza Snow remarked earlier.
This spirit of lawlessness continued with Sydney Rigdon delivering a highly inflammatory July 4th oration in 1838. He stated:
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. For from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.Sydney Rigdon
Scripturally we have 2 examples that we can draw from to help gauge whether the early members were justified in their threat of extermination. In 3 Nephi 3, the people asked their leader Gidgiddoni to fight an offensive war against their enemy and Gidgiddoni replied:
The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; … we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.3 Nephi 3:21
In addition to that, we have a modern-day revelation which Joseph received just a few years before the out-of-control behavior in Missouri. D&C 98:33 states:
And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.D&C 98:33
This is very clear that unless God commands his people to go after an enemy then they are expressly told not to do so. The revelation continuous by stating that if God does authorize an offensive battle, then God will be with his people, “until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies”. This absolutely did not happen. As we will shortly see, the churches offensive war was an epic disaster.
After the July 4th speech there was general excitement, however Ebenezer Robinson who converted to the church shortly before this time wrote:
To show the displeasure of our Heavenly Father, as we verily believe, a few days after, a thunderstorm arose, and passing over the place, a shaft of lightning struck the liberty pole and rived it into more than a thousand atoms. This struck dismay into the hearts of some, but we were told at the time, that Joseph Smith, Jr., walked over the splinters and prophesied that as he “walked over these splinters, so we will trample our enemies under our feet.” This gave encouragement to the fearful and timid.Ebenezer Robinson
About one month after the July 4th speech, members and non-members came together at Gallatin, MO, in order to vote in the current election. It is reported that there was so much animosity between the sides that a large group organized themselves to actively prevent the Mormons from voting. This of course further inflamed the situation which resulted in a literal fight breaking out. At the start of the fight, a man named John Butler is reported to have issued a rallying call to the Danites which helped scatter the opposing mob. After the brief fight both sides retreated with oaths of destruction and vengeance.
Animosity between both sides continued to grow, with small skirmishes on both sides, until early October when feelings reached a fever pitch. On October 18th, the Danites along with many other members of the church organized themselves into 3 groups and attacked various Missouri towns in retribution. The most severe of these was Gallatin. This was the location of the initial election day violence that seemed to trigger this chain of events. Witnesses to the destruction described the Mormon attackers as systematically going from one building to another and burning them to the ground. Anything of value was taken and confiscated while the residents were either killed or forcibly evicted. This stolen property was then given to the church as part of their Bishop’s Storehouse.
One witness recorded that this systematic destruction, by the Mormons, continued daily for some time. He remarked:
We could stand in our door and see houses burning every night for over two weeks… the Mormons completely gutted Daviess County. There was scarcely a Missourian’s home left standing in the county. Nearly every one was burned.Witness Statement
When thinking about this senseless violence it is very important to remember that this was at the start of winter. Therefore, the people in these Missouri homes and businesses were left with no clothing, no shelter, and no food. They had to escape on foot and rely on the kindness of others for their very lives. Of course, a natural reaction would be the thought that this was simply payback for the unkindness the church had already experienced. While this is understandable it is however totally opposed to the teachings of Jesus.
After witnessing this extreme multi day violence, by members of the church, Thomas B. Marsh left the church and swore an affidavit concerning to what he saw. He mentioned several specific acts of violence, he personally witnessed, along with the existence of the secret Danite group. News of the attacks and the affidavit quickly spread which caused both sides to prepare for a literal war of extermination as Sydney Rigdon had called for earlier.
Eight days after the destruction of Gallatin, a justifiable misunderstanding caused both sides to assemble for a battle outside of Far West, Missouri. This is known today as the Battle of Crooked River. A short shooting match ensued which resulted in deaths on both sides. News of this war very quickly reached the Missouri governor, Lilburn Boggs, who assembled 2500 men to defend the state and issued the infamous Extermination Order. This was a death blow to the church in Missouri.
It is almost comical that, as I was growing up, I was taught that the Extermination Order was simply the result of a governor that just hated the peace-loving Mormons. He was just an evil person motivated by Satan. I of course was never told that the Extermination Order was needed to prevent the Mormons from killing everyone around them and burning things to the ground.
Upon news of the Extermination Order, the Mormon militia groups retreated to Far West, Missouri with the state militia directly behind them. Immediately the town was surrounded which resulted in a very dire situation for the members. Joseph was even recorded by multiple people as telling the leader of the Mormon militia to, “beg like a dog for peace“. There were certainly strong feelings on both sides, however no one wanted to die over this when a peaceful solution could easily be reached.
The members were told that the conditions for peace were to give up their leaders for trial, surrender their weapons, and to sell their property in order to compensate the Missouri residents. This of course was quite unpleasant however Joseph saw no other option and complied with their demands. He turned himself over and told the Mormon militia to surrender their weapons. Joseph and a few other leaders were taken into custody and put into Liberty Jail over the terrible winter. This would have to have been a time of great reflection and questioning. In fact, short excerpts were taken from a letter Joseph wrote in Liberty Jail and these became what we know today as D&C 121, 122, and 123. From this letter, we can see Joseph’s feelings at the time and see that he was certainly upset, but also reflective to a degree.
As was mentioned, his time in Liberty Jail had to have been absolutely terrible. Especially considering it was through the winter. However, it is important to remember that his imprisonment was completely justified according to the crimes which the church was guilty of. The members had unnecessarily caused excessive destruction in order to retaliate. The LDS church today claims the church was innocent, and it was all because of hatred towards the Mormons. I certainly don’t think Joseph was personally to blame, however he had to of known ultimately what would happen if the violence was not stopped. He seemed to think that because God was with him previously then God would continue to do so indefinitely. This however is not how God works.
Without a doubt, being a member of the church in the 1830’s would have been very exciting but also very challenging. It was a time of great revelations from God. However, it was also a time when the members had to rely on God more than the cares of the world. This is certainly difficult, and I personally can’t claim any great mastery in this area. We as a people however need to master this if we want to become God’s people in Zion.
As was shown, the early members of the church made a bad situation worse by retaliating. Certainly, there was unjust persecution and the authorities failed them. However, I don’t think this means you can burn down homes and confiscate property as a form of retribution. God is calling us to a better way. This better way is to control our thoughts and emotions and not let them control us.
It is important to keep in mind that according to D&C 103:5-8, which was received in 1834, God said that the saints would “begin to prevail against [their] enemies from this very hour” if they hearkened to God. God however was very clear that if they didn’t listen to him then “the kingdoms of the world shall prevail against them”. There can only be one conclusion since the early church didn’t prevail against their enemies. The church in fact didn’t listen to God and was turned over to Satan as a result.
Each one of us is called to the way of eternal life by following the voice of Christ. However, we have to constantly battle the tendency of listening to the seductive voice of Satan instead. This is shown in many scriptures like Alma 12:9-11, 2 Nephi 2:27, and Moroni 7:5-20. We have a choice every day to step closer to God or closer to Babylon.
It is also important to keep in mind that even if Joseph, and the leaders of the early church, did something that we wouldn’t agree with today, that doesn’t mean it was done with malicious intent. Certainly, there was plenty of maliciousness to go around during the 1838 craziness. It however is not our place to judge the motivations of the individuals involved. The early church had the unprecedented blessings of God and then went they rejected those blessings, then God left them to their own devices and Satan filled the void.
It is very telling the changes that Joseph made in his Inspired Version of the Old Testament. He changed Isaiah 29:9-10 to read:
For, behold, all ye that do iniquity, stay yourselves, and wonder;Isaiah 29:9–10
for ye shall cry out, and cry;
yea, ye shall be drunken, but not with wine;
ye shall stagger, but not with strong drink.
For, behold, the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep.
For, behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets,
and your rulers and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquities.
When the people close their spiritual eyes and reject God and the prophets, then he removes the gifts from the prophets as they are no longer needed. Therefore, this makes perfect sense as to why the vast majority of revelations were received in the Kirtland era before the church was turned over to Satan. Joseph’s prophetic eyes were covered because the members didn’t want to listen. The LDS church today though takes almost all their core doctrines from the Nauvoo era of the church which is clearly after the church was already turned over to Satan.
This concept of being turned over to Satan may be alarming when you first consider it, however it is exactly what God said would happen if the people rejected him. I have shared this more than once, however it makes perfect sense as to why the church exhibited so many signs of divine acceptance in Kirtland, and then effectively went totally sideways after that.
In Book of Commandment 4 it reads:
And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, .. and I will establish my church like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.
And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto Satan, … and not far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah, do they come at this timeBook of Commandments 4 (D&C 5)
God will never force us to follow him. However, he does make it abundantly clear that if we fail to do so then we are left to our own devices. This means we are in the realm of Satan and within his power. God wants us to overcome this tendency of regression. However, we have to take his hand and walk with him. This almost always means doing things that we don’t necessarily think on the surface are beneficial. It is only through complete trust and faith in Christ that we can break out of this endless cycle of destruction.