[Paleopsych] Joseph Smith Bicentennial Package
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Fri Dec 23 15:20:18 UTC 2005
Joseph Smith Bicentennial Package
[Here's a representative sampling of the items on Google News. One
Mormon told me that the new Bushman biography is fair and objective.]
AP: Mormon president writes of Joseph Smith
By The Associated Press | December 18, 2005
Gordon Hinckley, the president of the Mormon church, writes in a church message
this month about Joseph Smith:
"That baby boy born 200 years ago this month in humble circumstances in rural
Vermont was foreordained to become a great leader in the fulfilling of our
Father's plan for His children on Earth.
"We do not worship the Prophet. We worship God our Eternal Father and the risen
Lord Jesus Christ. But we acknowledge the Prophet; we proclaim him; we respect
him; we reverence him as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring
to the Earth the ancient truths of the divine gospel, together with the
priesthood through which the authority of God is exercised in the affairs of His
Church and for the blessing of His people.
"The story of Joseph's life is the story of a miracle. He was born in poverty. He
was reared in adversity. He was driven from place to place, falsely accused, and
illegally imprisoned. He was murdered at the age of 38. Yet in the brief space of
20 years preceding his death, he accomplished what none other has accomplished in
an entire lifetime. He translated and published the Book of Mormon, a volume
which has since been retranslated into scores of languages and which is accepted
by millions across the Earth as the word of God. The revelations he received and
other writings he produced are likewise scripture to these millions. The total in
book pages constitutes approximately twice the volume of the entire New Testament
of the Bible, and it all came through one man in the space of a few years.
"In this same period he established an organization which for 175 years has
withstood every adversity and challenge and is as effective today in governing a
worldwide membership of some 12 million as it was in governing a membership of
300 in 1830. There are those doubters who have strained to explain this
remarkable organization as the product of the times in which he lived. That
organization, I submit, was as peculiar, as unique, and as remarkable then as it
is today. It was not a product of the times. It came as a revelation from God."
-- From the Ensign, December 2005
Salt Lake Tribune: LDS celebration of Joseph Smith will conclude with
Gordon B. Hinckley
retracing his predecessor's steps
Article Last Updated: 12/16/2005 11:31 PM
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
On a frigid, snowy December morning a century ago, LDS Church President Joseph F.
Smith led an entourage of men in black overcoats and top hats up a hill
overlooking Sharon, Vt.
Mormon officers had traveled by special train from Salt Lake City to
celebrate church founder Joseph Smith's 100th birthday near the log cabin where
he was born Dec. 23, 1805. They would dedicate a polished granite shaft cut from
a single stone and measuring 38 1/2 feet high - one foot for every year of
Smith's life. The monument was hauled on a quarry wagon through winding Vermont
roads and finally erected on the hill.
It was a moment of triumph and tenderness for the Mormon leaders who gathered
there to remember and pay homage to their beloved leader, even as their church
was being investigated, ridiculed and attacked by a congressional committee in
Washington, D.C. Joseph F. Smith faced grueling questions about the church's
involvement in polygamy, its temple ceremonies and loyalty to the United States
before the Congress would allow a Utah senator to be seated.
Since that dedication, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has
flourished. It has more than 12 million members in more than 100 countries,
temples across the globe, one of the largest full-time missionary corps, and a
presence in national religious debates - to say nothing about a world-class
Next week Gordon B. Hinckley, the church's 15th president, will retrace his
predecessor's steps to Sharon for the bicentennial of Smith's birth.
On Friday, Hinckley will preach from the site via satellite to the LDS
Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. During the broadcast, his two
counselors in the governing First Presidency will add their own tributes and
music will be provided by the Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple
Square. The program will be broadcast live to LDS stake centers and also can be
viewed on KBYU Channel 11.
This is the culmination of the church's yearlong celebration of the man
Mormons believe "communed with Jehovah."
Smith told devotees that when he was 14, God and Jesus visited him in a grove
of trees near his home in Palmyra, N.Y. A few years later, he said, an angel led
him to gold plates on which were inscribed the history of ancient Hebrews who
migrated to the American continent around 600 B.C. With God's help, Smith said,
he was able to translate the writings into a text he published as The Book of
In 1830, Smith organized a church that he said was the restored church of
Jesus Christ and spent the next 14 years as its "prophet, seer and revelator." He
showered his people with insights he claimed to receive from on high. His
unorthodox Christian views drew many followers but just as many detractors. At 38
years old, Smith was killed in 1844 by an angry mob in Carthage, Ill.
Throughout 2005, the farm-boy-turned-prophet was scrutinized by scholars
meeting at conferences, seminars and symposia, including one at the Library of
Congress. Brigham Young University historians scurried to begin publishing a
12-volume collection of Smith's diaries, sermons, speeches and letters, a project
endorsed by the National Archives. LDS Church-owned Deseret Book produced a
glossy, coffee-table book, Joseph Smith's America: His Life and Times, with
stunning historical photos and vivid text by Chad Orton and William Slaughter.
Newsweek honored Mormonism's year with a cover story this fall, saying
"Joseph Smith founded a booming faith that's confronting its past as it looks to
Other publishers pumped out volumes on Smith, including Richard Bushman's
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.
Bushman, a practicing Mormon who is also a professor emeritus of U.S. history
at Columbia University, "gives both Smith and his doctrine a sympathetic but
perceptive appraisal in this important new study," says Walter Russell Mead in
the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, thousands of Mormon teens danced their devotion in college
stadiums. Artists painted and sculpted his likeness, while various filmmakers
retold his story on the big screen.
Just this week the church unveiled its new film about Smith's life, which will
be be shown continuously in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial
Building in Salt Lake City.
At the 1905 dedication at Smith's birthplace, Joseph F. Smith prayed that
"peace be . . . unto this monument and unto all who come to visit it with
feelings of respect in their hearts."
It's a fitting invocation for today's Mormons to contemplate as they consider
one more time the man who launched their movement.
Contact Peggy Fletcher Stack at pstack at sltrib.com or 801-257-8725. Send
comments about this article to religioneditor at sltrib.com.
Christian Science Monitor: He founded a church and stirred a young nation
from the December 20, 2005 edition -
He founded a church and stirred a young nation
A rich, detailed portrait of Joseph Smith, father of Mormonism.
By Jane Lampman
How did a young man from a poor farm family - who as a boy received minimal
education and had little religious background - come to found a church that today
boasts millions of members worldwide?
A religious leader for only 14 years until his assassination in 1844, Joseph
Smith drew thousands during his lifetime to his vision of a theocratic New
Jerusalem in the American heartland. Possessing what one critic called a genius
for "religion making," Smith wrote new scriptures and created a complex
institution that has long survived his death.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates its 175th anniversary
this year, and on December 23, the 200th anniversary of Smith's birth.
In Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, historian Richard Bushman, professor
emeritus at Columbia University and a practicing Mormon, fashions a fascinating,
definitive biography of the rough-hewn Yankee who stirred controversy from
Bushman's intimate, 740-page portrait explores all the corners of controversy but
does not resolve them, suggesting that - given the nature of the man and his
story - such resolution is never likely to occur. An honest yet sympathetic
portrayal, the book is rich in its depiction of developing Mormonism.
During an era of revivals and religious ferment, Smith saw himself as a
major prophet and revelator - a restorer of the one true church. Despite a
story that appeared fantastical to many, Smith's teaching caught the
interest of others in search of a faith different from that offered by the
churches of the time.
As a youth, Smith engaged with family and friends in magic and treasure-digging.
He also prayed to know which church to attend. He said later that he was then
told by God and Jesus that the existing churches were in apostasy.
In a second vision, Smith said, an angel named Moroni directed him to buried
golden plates that were to become the source for his Book of Mormon, which he
translated from hieroglyphs through the use of a seer stone and spectacles that
he called the Urim and Thummim. (The angel later retrieved the plates.)
The Book of Mormon is understood by Latter-day Saints to be the history of Jews
who traveled to the Western hemisphere around 600 BCE, and of Jesus' visit to
them after his resurrection. (The assumption that the Indians of the Americas are
the descendants of the people in the book has been upset recently by DNA studies
- done by Mormons - which show no connection to the ancient Hebrews.)
Smith - called simply "Joseph" by Mormons - published the book in 1830, and later
published others ("The Book of Abraham" and "The Book of Moses") purporting to
provide true histories that go far beyond the Bible.
It was not preaching, but his ongoing "revelations" that shaped the developing
religion and its practices. They were full of biblical phrasings, and many
practices derived from Old Testament teachings (such as restoration of Aaron's
The revelations included establishment of a hierarchical priesthood in which all
males participate; secret temple rites; the deeding of property to church
bishops, to be distributed as appropriate to the needy and toward purchase of
land; and the nature of the afterlife, which includes "plural marriage."
Some may feel the author sanitizes Smith's motives for establishing polygamy and
marrying dozens of wives.
Bushman tells an engrossing tale of a charismatic leader who was egalitarian and
loved working with others, yet who was sensitive to criticism or dissent.
Mormons believed the Second Coming to be imminent, and converts followed their
leader from New York to Ohio to Missouri, where Joseph said New Jerusalem was to
be situated. But in purchasing large amounts of land for their City of Zion, the
Mormons clashed - and even went to war - with other residents.
Smith lived in a biblical world where God's laws alone were of concern; He did
not acknowledge governments, the nation, or the Constitution, Bushman says, until
his flock ran into trouble and needed government protection. He then turned to
state governors, and later to the US Congress for aid. The Mormons' story and
self-image shifted from one of revelation to persecution.
Driven out of Missouri, the Saints regrouped in Nauvoo, Ill., where they built a
temple and city, drawing church members from as far away as England. Yet Joseph's
polygamous practice stirred controversy even among the faithful (including his
first wife, Emma), and a few dissidents were excommunicated.
After he destroyed a dissenting Nauvoo newspaper, Smith was jailed in a
neighboring city, and he and his brother were killed by a mob and militiamen who
were guarding them. (His successor, Brigham Young, led members west to Utah.)
Meticulously researched, the detailed nature of this biography may make it of
interest mostly to Mormons. Yet Bushman also offers an intriguing exploration of
a remarkable development in American religious history.
Claims that the church is the fastest growing in the US have recently been
questioned (studies show that about the same number are leaving as joining). But
its members are increasingly widespread in the US and more visibly influential in
political circles (i.e. Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, and Gov.
Mitt Romney (R) of Massachusetts, who may run for president in 2008).
This is a work that offers non-Mormons a chance to gain knowledge of a church not
their own. It also stirs deeper questions about American religious convictions
and how they shape lives and culture.
o Jane Lampman is on the Monitor's staff.
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
By Richard Lyman Bushman
Knopf740 pp., $35
Deseret Morning News: Joseph Smith's fame
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Joseph Smith's fame
Scholars around the world are studying the impact of Joseph Smith, attempting to
account for the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here's
what some have said in academic settings this year, the 200th anniversary of
Jason Lase, director general of Indonesia's Department of Religious Affairs,
called Joseph Smith "a modern religious genius" who created "one of the most
stable and well-organized religious organizations" during a May speech at
Parliament House in Sydney, Australia.
Arun Joshi, a Hindu journalist from India, concluded "the message of Joseph Smith
is more relevant . . . today than ever before" in a paper titled "Mormon Ways of
Family Life Can Resolve Conflicts in World" and delivered at National Taiwan
University in August.
Terryl Givens, a religion scholar at the University of Richmond, speaking Tuesday
at BYU: "It can be heady stuff for members of a previously marginalized religion
of modest size to find their faith and founder the subject of symposia,
celebration and scholarly interest. Some have even predicted a new world religion
will emerge out of these accelerating developments.
KUTV: A Different Take On Joseph Smiths Death
(KUTV) To LDS faithful, Joseph Smith was murdered because he was a prophet of
God. A new book on Joseph Smith has different take on his death.
Dan Rascon has more.
According to the authors of a new book, Joseph Smith was a presidential candidate
in 1844 and was threatening one of the political parties so he had to be taken
He's one of the most written about religious leaders in American history and now
comes one more book about LDS founder Joseph Smith. A new revelation about
Joseph's murder is the subject behind this one.
"It was a planned event by a number of politicians," said Dr. Robert Wicks in a
phone interview from oxford Ohio where he is the director of the Miami University
Dr. Wicks is one of the co-authors of the book called Junius and Joseph:
Presidential Politics and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet.
According to Wicks' research, after Joseph busted through the window at Cartridge
jail, he landed on the ground and crawled to a nearby well and was assassinated
by a four-man firing squadnot for just his beliefs, but because he was a
"It was basically political to get Joseph Smith out of the way so he would not
impact the outcome of the 1844 election," said Dr. Wicks.
Wicks says it was presidential candidate Henry Clay's party that was concerned.
When asked if he believes Henry Clay was involved Wicks replied, "We don't know.
We know people under Clay were involved. That's stated very clear in a number of
sources. I'm not making it up."
"They don't know that. They can't know that, said Dr. Steven Harper.
Dr. Harper is a church history professor at BYU who's just written his own book
on Joseph Smith called Joseph the Seer.
It is true Joseph was a presidential candidate and that his political platform
played a role, but Harper doesn't believe in a conspiracya planned out
"Where I think they go too far is reaching too much into their sources," said Dr.
Wicks says his research started ten years ago when he came across some documents
of a man named John Elliott who he says was one of the assassins and had
political ties to Henry Clay.
The Arizona Republic: Mormon role vital to West
December 23, 2005
Wendell Cox: My Turn
Part of the uniqueness of the American West can be attributed to a man who never
got past Missouri during his 38-year lifespan.
That man, Joseph Smith, was the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, and today, Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) will celebrate the
200th anniversary of his birth in Vermont.
The West as we know it and the LDS Church have always been inextricably linked;
the West simply would not be the West without Joseph Smith.
Neither would Arizona. The Latter-day Saints settled 34 Mormon colonies
throughout the state, including Mesa, which has become one of the largest
suburban cities in the United States.
Today, Arizona has the fourth-highest LDS population in the country, with more
than 360,000 members and two temples.
In early 1846, the United States held undisputed title to very little of what was
to become the American West.
Most of the Southwest, from Colorado and New Mexico to California, was part of
Mexico. Most of the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Country, from Montana and
Wyoming to Washington and near Alaska was claimed by both the British and the
Americans. It was this unsettled environment that the Latter-day Saints would
soon be joining.
Political turmoil was afoot in Mexico. Texas had gained independence from Mexico
and was annexed by the United States in 1845. Soon afterward, the
Mexican-American War was in full tilt.
Meanwhile, the Latter-day Saints were spending a dismal winter in Nauvoo, Ill. An
angry mob had murdered Joseph Smith in 1844, and more mobs were burning Mormon
homes, seeking to drive them out.
Stepping into the vacuum left by the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, new church leader
Brigham Young resolved to leave the persecution behind and take the Church west,
to the Great Salt Lake Valley, which was still a part of Mexico. So on Feb. 4,
1846, the first Mormon contingent headed west.
Progress was slow for the Latter-day Saints, who were forced to spend the cold
winter on the banks of the Missouri River in what is now the Omaha area. In the
spring of 1847, the trek resumed and on July 24, 1847, the Latter-day Saints
entered the Great Salt Lake Valley.
In the fall of 1847, the West was still relatively empty. Nearly all of the
West's population was in small Mexican towns, the largest of which was Santa Fe.
San Francisco still had fewer than 500 residents. Available data suggests that
the Great Salt Lake Valley may have been the West's largest settlement as winter
began. But it was not to last.
Five months to the day after the Latter-day Saints reached the Salt Lake Valley
(Jan. 24, 1848), gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, near Sacramento, by a
group that included six recently discharged members of the Mormon Battalion, and
marked the beginning of California's rapid growth.
In two years, San Francisco grew to a population of 25,000 and became the West's
premier urban area until the ascendancy of Los Angeles in the 1920s.
These were perhaps the most momentous years for both the American West and the
Latter-day Saints. America added more than a third to its land area in the two
new acquisitions of Oregon and the Southwest. While millions of people traveled
westward on the Mormon, the Oregon, and the California Trails, the Latter-day
Saints were settling more than 700 communities in the West, including Mesa, Las
Vegas, San Bernardino, Calif., and Pueblo, Colo.
That was just the beginning, however. The West emerged as the nation's
fastest-growing region over the next 150 years. Even faster growth was to come
following World War II, as the shared population living in the West rose by more
than 50 percent.
The church, too, has experienced strong growth. Between 1950 and 2000, the
percentage of the nation's population counted as Latter-day Saints nearly
tripled. Like the West, its influence has been international. Today, the hearty
little church that found its permanent home in the Great Salt Lake Valley claims
more than 12 million members, most of whom live outside the United States.
This weekend, as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Latter-day Saints will
also take a moment to remember the man that made their church possible and helped
build up the West without ever seeing it.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international demographics and public
policy firm in the St. Louis area. He also serves as a visiting professor at the
Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.
Knight Ridder: Mormons gain diverse members in inner cities
Posted on Wed, Dec. 21, 2005 [spacer.gif]
BY MIRIAM HILL
Knight Ridder Newspapers
PHILADELPHIA - Donte Holland, a 30-year-old carpenter's apprentice, joined the
Mormon church in Philadelphia two years ago because it gave him "the fruits of
the spirit. Peace. A good feeling inside."
Holland and his wife, Rosalyn, are both black. The Mormon church is as white as
its most famous members, Donny and Marie Osmond, and in Philadelphia, Eagles
Coach Andy Reid. But for the last decade or so, the Mormons, officially known as
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, have been expanding in
city neighborhoods with large black and Spanish-speaking populations.
The Hollands joined after some missionaries knocked on their door and explained
the faith. Last month, the Mormons opened a five-story meeting house for 900
members on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. Recently, a new Mormon church building
at Broad and Wyoming streets in Philadelphia held an open house with food and
information about the church and about other topics, including medical care and
financial planning. The Harlem and Philadelphia churches follow an earlier
expansion in Detroit.
The church does not record members' racial or ethnic backgrounds, but experts
estimate that black Mormons number 5,000 to 10,000 in the United States, up from
almost none in 30 years ago. The church says 130,000 people belong to its
Spanish-speaking congregations, up from 92,600 in 1995. The Broad and Wyoming
location includes a Spanish-speaking service, and attendance at that has grown
from 60 to about 110 since the new building opened earlier this year.
Mormons count 12 million members around the world, 5.5 million of them in the
United States, so the minority figures are small but growing.
"There is a kind of changing face of the LDS church because of its continuing
commitment to work in the inner cities," said Melvyn Hammarberg, an associate
professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the
The growth has occurred recently in part because, like many American churches,
the Mormon church has had racist chapters in its past.
Its founder, Joseph Smith is believed to have ordained a black man, Elijah Abel
in 1836. But his successor, Brigham Young, decreed that black men were not worthy
of being priests. While in most churches the priesthood involves a small, select
group, in the Mormon church, it is a prerequisite for full membership for men in
In 1978, church leaders in Salt Lake City had what Mormons call a "revelation,"
which church members believe comes directly from god. The revelation proclaimed
that "all worthy men ... without regard for race or color" could be ordained for
Some members, however, say the church needs to go further, repudiating old
beliefs, such as the one that said blacks were cursed and so could not be
"If the church would apologize, it would do wonders for proselytizing among
blacks," said Darron Smith, a black Mormon and author of "Black and Mormon."
Other churches, he noted, including Southern Baptists, have apologized for racist
Smith joined the church as a teenager in 1980 because he liked the answers it
offered about family and the afterlife. Church members also were very friendly,
he said. But when he has criticized the church's previous attitudes towards
blacks, white Mormons often brought up old teachings to justify the one-time ban
on black priests.
"This is systemic," Smith said. "This is a part of how people have learned to
understand these issues," he said. Church officials said they emphasize the
importance of diversity and the dangers of discrimination in current teachings.
Despite the church's history, several black members said only the Mormon church
ever felt like home.
Ahmad S. Corbitt, who grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from John Bartram
High School, got his Arab name from his parents, who were involved with the
Nation of Islam and knew Malcolm X. The family later converted to the Methodist
Church. But when Mormons knocked on his family's door in South Jersey in 1980,
"my mother felt a peaceful, spiritual feeling immediately."
Missionary work - going door to door in cities and neighborhoods across the world
- is a key component of the Mormon faith. Many young Mormons spend two years in a
mission away from home.
Corbitt, who was 17 when the Mormons came calling, shared his mother's feelings
and converted, too.
He knew about the pre-1978 ban but said it didn't bother him.
"It was something that the church had clearly moved beyond," he said. "It was
clear to me that the church was moving forward and I was willing to judge it by
After several years as a lawyer and public relations executive, he became
director of the New York Office of Public and International Affairs of the
church. Last month, he became Stake President for the Church in South Jersey, a
promotion roughly equivalent to becoming a bishop in the Catholic Church.
Corbitt, 43, is one of a handful of black stake presidents in the United States.
At one of the new Philadelphia church's first services, the crowd of about 100
people appeared to be about 30 percent black. The surrounding neighborhood is
about 80 percent black.
Services last three hours, with one hour devoted to singing, preaching and
confirmations of people recently baptized as members. Men and women separate for
the remaining portion. Each group discusses ways to improve their lives and the
Celeste Smith and Carolyn Frye, two North Philadelphia residents, were checking
out the church. Neither is Mormon, but Smith said her teenage son had started
coming to the church after some missionaries knocked on their door, so she wanted
to check it out.
She had still not decided whether to join.
"It's working for me right now," she said. Frye liked the diversity of the crowd
but said the relatively staid service "just didn't move me. I'm used to more
foot-stomping and that kind of thing."
Those who do join say the church's emphasis on family attracted them. Church
services overflow with children and conversations and classes often aim at
improving family life.
"I have seen so many lives blessed by the power of the gospel," said Ingrid
Shepard, president of the Mormon Relief Society, a women's auxiliary group, at
the Broad and Wyoming church. She is black but said the church's history is less
important to her than her experience in it.
"I guess having been a member of the church my entire life I have never felt that
it is racist," she said.
Belief Net: Linda Hoffman Kimball on Joseph Smith--Mormon, Latter-Day
Saints, Prophet, LDS
Unlike many Mormons, I can't get on the Joseph Smith veneration bandwagon. But I
still deeply appreciate this complex man.
As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I found Joseph
Smith to be a stumbling block. Reared an authority-phobic Protestant, I knew
problems arise when one person claims to be the definitive speaker for God.
Mormons talked about him in such reverential terms, refer to him in one long
honorific as "The Prophet Joseph Smith." They sometimes sing songs about
him--even in worship services!--praising "the man who communed with Jehovah":
Praise to his memory, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heaven while the earth lauds his fame.
As an Illinoisan, I clenched when I learned that the original words to that
verse, written not long after the assassination of Joseph Smith in Carthage,
Ill., in 1844, were "Long shall the blood which was shed by assassins, stain
While I was assured by church members that Mormons don't worship Joseph Smith, I
was (and still am) squeamish at the constant exaltations. I shy from endorsing
anything that carries a whiff of displacing God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the
Holy Ghost as worthy of our highest praise. I am grateful. I can't adequately
articulate my appreciation for Joseph Smith's role in the "founding miracles" of
the Restoration of the Gospel, the priesthood, and the Book of Mormon (see R.L.
Bushman). But I can't get on the "exalt the Prophet Joseph Smith" bandwagon. As a
Mormon by commitment, covenant, and conversion, this makes me a bit of an odd
duck. But then again, so was Joseph Smith. That's what draws me to him, in fact.
Back in the early 1980s odd letters began emerging about folk magic and "white
salamanders" having influenced Joseph Smith, and many in the church were
horrified at the besmirching of his character. How satisfying to then discover
that these letters were fakes placed by Mark Hofmann, forger, bomber, and
murderer, intent on discrediting the church's history.
But the truth remains that Joseph Smith was accustomed to the folk magic of his
rural 19th-century culture. In his early years he had been a "treasure seeker."
He was familiar with the concept of looking through stones or using "divining
rods" to locate things and learn. Knowing these things about him doesn't diminish
him in my eyes; they make him more real and knowable, not whitewashed and
"prettified." In fact, as Richard Bushman, and scholar and LDS member, says in
his new biography "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" (p. 131), "Neither his
education nor his Christian upbringing prepared Joseph to translate a book, but
the magic culture may have.... Practice with his scrying stones carried over to
translation of the gold plates. In fact, as work on the Book of Mormon proceeded,
a seerstoneaid[ed] in the work, blending magic with inspired translation."
A man who can be brawny, perplexing, rough-edged, and outrageous
Belief Net: Joseph Smith: Prophet, Revelator, Human; Interview with
Richard Lyman Bushman
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
By Richard Lyman Bushman
Joseph Smith: Prophet, Revelator, Human
As Mormons celebrate the bicentennial of their church's founder, a new biography
explores his achievements--and shortcomings.
Interview by Michael Kress
When Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints--commonly known as the Mormons--in 1830, there were few signs that this
group of six people would grow into an international religious movement that
today claims 11 million members and is the fourth-largest denomination in the
U.S. Dec. 23 marks 200 years since Smith's birth in Sharon, Vt., and his
spiritual heirs have been commemorating his bicentennial throughout this year.
Among the events marking the anniversary was the publication of a new scholarly
biography, "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling," by Richard Lyman Bushman, a
professor emeritus at Columbia University and a practicing Mormon. Bushman spoke
with Beliefnet about his book and about the man who founded the Mormon Church.
Can you explain your book's subhead, "Rough Stone Rolling"?
These are words Joseph Smith used to describe himself, and then Brigham Young
repeated them. I was drawn to them because I think they capture the incongruity
of his inadequate preparation for any kind of leadership role and the rough style
of personality and method that continue to the end of his life. And I think it
points out the incongruities of a person with so little background who achieved
How did someone with those incongruities create such a lasting institution?
It's the great puzzle of his life. Those who study prophetic figures in
history--American as well as ancient history--point out the immense energy that
floods into a person who comes to believe that God is speaking through them and
that they are chosen instruments for some divine purpose. That confidence of
Joseph Smith gave him all sorts of powers he might otherwise not have commanded.
It overcame the intimidation he might have felt because of his lack of education
and social standing. He just boldly went forward with these extravagant plans for
a church and a city of Zion and a temple, and I think that sprang from his
confidence that God was with him.
He also had a knack for speaking to the deep religious issues of his time--one of
these being a hunger to return of biblical powers. This is a Bible-blazing
people, and it's quite obvious that all the gifts that are promised in the New
Testament and the tradition of direct revelation had petered out by their time,
and there were a lot of people who wanted these returned. And Joseph Smith gave
them what they were looking for: a prophet speaking for God.
What were the negative effects of his inadequate preparation?
For someone so unprepossessing to claim so much made him appear like a fraud. How
can anyone say God has spoken to him when he has so few qualifications? And so
people ridiculed him immediately, and even more were suspicious of him, thought
this was a con operation and he was actually dangerous. So that incongruity set
up great suspicions in the people who saw him in operation.
We think of Smith as a man with supreme confidence, but you write about a man
with human doubts and insecurities. What were some of these?
This came as a surprise to me because he does seem so bold, almost impregnable,
in his confidence, and it is true that people didn't intimidate him. But he
needed people around him, I concluded. He was at his best when he was surrounded
by people, believers or unbelievers. When he was alone, he became blue, as he
said. He fell into melancholy. He had a kind of Abraham Lincoln character about
him, and all the sorrows of his past and his mistakes would flood in on him, and
he felt like he was very dependent on God to restore him, because he felt so weak
You've said that scholars are beginning to think of Smith in the context of a
tradition of American prophecy. What do you mean by this?
Scholars are beginning to recognize that the prophetic voice recurs in America.
It begins with Anne Hutchinson, who says quite bluntly that God was revealing his
truth to her. This role is accessible in a Bible-believing culture, and the Bible
is, of course, as significant as the U.S. Constitution for establishing the
primers of American culture. So there are people who picked up that role, and
Joseph Smith is preeminent among them. No one exceeds him in claiming prophetic
powers. He produces Scripture and revives the biblical role. So that's one way to
think of Joseph Smith, as stepping out into a tradition of American prophets.
How has Smith's image changed over the years among academics and the general
There are certain traditions that just persist forever. One is that he was a
"colorful fraud," and even a "dangerous fraud," which was a stereotype that was
locked on him almost immediately. He was classed with Muhammad as a man who
thought he spoke for God and therefore wished to impose his will by force on
people around him, and he was frequently compared to Muhammad in his own
lifetime. That remains.
I do think there is a growing willingness to respect Joseph Smith because of the
success of the Mormon Church. With so many sensible, likeable people who are
Mormons and who believe in him, it's not as easy to dismiss him as it was in the
19th century. So there's a look-and-see attitude: Hard to believe he did the
things he claimed to do--seeing an angel and translating--and still, here are the
consequences, the Mormon people. So there's a suspension of disbelief among some
Belief Net: The Mormon Moment--Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, Missionaries, Romney, DNA Evidence
The Mormon Moment
Boom times for the once-persecuted Latter-day Saints
By Michael Kress
As they mark Pioneer Day this weekend, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints--better known to most Americans as Mormons--have a lot to
The holiday commemorates Mormons' arrival in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on
July 24, 1847, after an arduous journey from their previous home in Nauvoo,
Illinois. The church's massive worldwide growth recently, Mormons' increased
prominence in American public life, and this year's bicentennial of the birth of
church founder Joseph Smith, add up to particularly heady days for a church whose
members were once persecuted for their faith.
At Smith's centennial 100 years ago, "The Latter-day Saints were so feared and
hated that their missionaries were still being tied to trees and horsewhipped in
the American South, and some were being shot," said Kathleen Flake, a professor
at Vanderbilt University and author of "The Politics of Religious Identity: the
Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle."
What a difference a century makes.
Today, the leader of Senate Democrats, Harry Reid, is a Mormon. So are Mike
Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Mitt Romney, governor of
Massachusetts. And Mormons--along with plenty of non-Mormons--are abuzz about the
possibility of the ultimate political prize: Romney is widely expected to run for
president in 2008.
Joseph Smith's bicentennial is being marked in places like the Library of
Congress, which co-sponsored with Brigham Young University a symposium on Smith's
life and teachings. Several new academic biographies are being published, and the
first volume of the Joseph Smith papers--a complete compilation of his
writings--will be issued next year.
And with 5.5 million members in the United States, the LDS church has become the
fourth-largest denomination in the country (up from fifth a year ago, having
passed the Church of God in Christ), according to the National Council of
Churches. Outside the U.S. and Canada, the church has grown more than fivefold to
6.3 million members since 1980--with nearly 10 percent of that in the past five
years, according to figures provided by Mormon officials.
"The church has migrated from a provincial faith to a faith that can make itself
at home in any space and every culture," said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus at
Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.
Growth is strongest today in Latin America and West Africa-- ironic since blacks
were not allowed to join the Mormon priesthood (a term used for virtually all
male church members) until 1978.
"In those places it is a period of rapid cultural and economic change, and when
that happens, there's always an openness to new movements," said Armand Mauss,
professor emeritus of sociology and religion at Washington State University.
Belief Net: How Mormonism Differs from Traditional Christianity
Mormonism vs. Traditional Christianity
How Mormon beliefs differ from those of traditional Christianity.
Scripture: Most Christians accept only the Bible as authoritative scripture.
Mormons believe the Bible is sacred. They add three other documents-The Pearl of
Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Book of Mormon-to their canon.
Creeds: For most Christians, church teachings stem from scripture. Leaders of the
early church sought to specify the core of Christian belief in order to ensure
the soundness of Christian teaching. At meetings in Nicea and Chalcedon in the
fourth and fifth centuries, these leaders established the canon of scripture and
proclaimed the basic elements of acceptable Christian doctrine. Mormons do not
affirm any of the creeds as stated, though they share some of the theological
ideas in the creeds. They believe that after the death of the early apostles, the
Christian church fell into apostasy. The church needed to be restored in the
latter days, which Mormons believe were begun in 1820, when Mormon founder Joseph
Smith was visited by God the father and Jesus Christ.
Nature of Godhead: For most Christians, the Godhead is composed of three persons
of one substance, power, and eternitythe Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. These Three
are One. This triune God is without "body, parts or passions." The LDS Church
also teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost comprise the Godhead. But
Mormons believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and
bones as tangible as human beings, while the Holy Ghost "is a personage of
Spirit." Mormonism also teaches that God the Father was once a man. He is married
to a "heavenly mother" and is the literal father of all mortal spirits.
Christ: Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ was "truly God and truly man,
in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united." He is
the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the
Holy Spirit. Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the most literal
sense. He is eldest brother of all mortals and firstborn spirit child of God. He
was Jehovah of the Old Testament but became Jesus Christ of the New Testament
when he was born into mortality. They believe that from Mary, a mortal woman, he
inherited the capacity to die, and from God, an exalted being, he inherited the
capacity to live forever.
Salvation: According to the historic, apostolic Christian faith, salvation comes
only by the grace of Christ, who "suffered, was crucified, died and was buried,
to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original
guilt, but also for actual sins of men." Mormons also believe that salvation
comes through Christ's atoning sacrifice. But they dont believe in "original sin"
or in human depravity. Still, Latter-day Saints believe that fallen men and women
do need redemption. And while works are a necessary condition, they are
insufficient for salvation.
Suggested Reading: How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon and an Evangelical in
By Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson
Text by Peggy Stack
Weekly Standard: Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney could become the first Mormon in
the White House.
In 2008, Will It Be Mormon in America?
Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney could become the first Mormon in the White House.
By Terry Eastland
Excerpted with permission from The Weekly Standard.
You remember, or perhaps you don't, Sen. Orrin Hatch's 2000 presidential
campaign. The senator talks about it in soft inflections, recalling this event
and that debate. But especially he talks about what motivated him to run. Hatch,
a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, cites polling data
from 1999 suggesting that 17 percent of Americans wouldn't vote for a Mormon for
president under any circumstances.
"One reason I ran was to knock down the prejudicial wall that exists" against
Mormons, he says. "I wanted to make it easier for the next candidate of my
That next candidate just might be Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of
Massachusetts. But would his religion hurt him? Would he run into a prejudicial
wall? Maybe, though there are reasons to think otherwise.
Apparently some people so dislike Mormonism, or find it so odd, that they
wouldn't vote for a Mormon. You can speculate about why that is. Maybe it's the
hierarchical character of the church. Or maybe it's the church's secrecy about
things like finances or temple rituals. Then there's polygamy, introduced by
Joseph Smith (who had 49 wives) and practiced until, a century ago, the church
finally realized that the federal government would not tolerate it.
Church and State
And there's church and state: Some people fear that, deep down, Mormons want to
gain control of the government and turn the United States into their kingdom of
Some of those objections might fade if voters got to know a Mormon of compelling
political credentials, and came to feel comfortable with him. Other objections
might have to be answered directly. In regard to polygamy, for example, it would
be unfair to hang that history around the neck of Romney, the husband of one and
only one wife since their marriage 36 years ago.
As for church and state, Mormons don't seem especially threatening to the
prevailing order. The church doesn't endorse candidates. It stays out of partisan
matters, refusing even to let individual churches or their membership lists be
used for partisan purposes. It does encourage citizens to vote: Before elections
the church urges members to consider the issues and candidates, "and then vote
for the people that best represent their ideas of good government," according to
Like most churches, it participates in law cases raising religious liberty
issues, often partnering with religious bodies of diverse beliefs. Here, in a
friend-of-the court capacity, the church seeks to protect its ability to
proselytize and to hire church officials and employees.
The church does occasionally speak out on what it calls "matters of principle."
In the 1970s and early 1980s, it helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. More
recently it has affirmed the traditional definition of marriage and contributed
to referendum drives banning same-sex unions. The church seems to distinguish
ballot-measures from elections for office, seeing only the latter as partisan. In
any case, the church's efforts in these respects have a common theme--protection
of the traditional family.
Policy and Faith
Romney hasn't felt compelled to regard the church's guidance to its members as
sufficient in matters of public policy. He emphasizes his independence in
assessing issues. He points out that he doesn't drink, consistent with what his
church advises, yet he signed a bill permitting liquor sales on Sunday because
"there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol if you do it properly and
AP: Hinckley Discusses Legacy Of Joseph Smith
SHARON, Vt. Mormon church President Gordon B. Hinckley paused and looked up at
the granite obelisk, erected on a Vermont hillside, where church founder Joseph
Smith is believed to have been born.
``Quite a monument,'' Hinckley said. ``Beautiful.''
On Friday, Mormons will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Smith's birth.
Records from Smith family diaries place the birth here on Dec. 23, 1805. A
hearthstone and a moss-covered front step are all that remain of the original
24-foot-by-22-foot home where the Smith family ran a small farm.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built and dedicated the 38
1/2-foot monument to Smith _ one foot of granite for each year of his life _ in
Hinckley, the 15th president of the church, was joined by one of his sons, six of
his grandchildren and two great-grandchildren when he paid an early visit to the
``This is the ground. This is the place. This is where it happened, this was the
starting place,'' Hinckley told reporters at the monument's visitors center.
Smith founded the church April 6, 1830 in Palmyra, N.Y. He claimed God had
appeared to him in a vision 10 years earlier, instructing him to restore the
ancient church to the Earth. He later said an angel, Moroni, also appeared to him
and led him to a set of buried gold plates, which Smith translated into the Book
of Mormon, the faith's foundational text.
Today the church numbers a reported 12 million members in 160 countries.
Hinckley will speak to Mormons from Sharon, via satellite Friday, part of a
celebration that will originate from church's Salt Lake City conference center
and be broadcast into church meeting houses around the world.
``There's something very significant about the fact that we're reaching back and
forth, almost across this whole continent, in this bicentennial celebration, ``
Hinckley said he didn't know what Smith would make of such communications.
``I can't read his mind,'' Hinckley said, drawing laughter. ``I think he would be
very much amazed.''
More information about the paleopsych