I don’t know how you imagined it, but I see Joseph Smith stumble-running from pursuers, dodging tree stumps and leaping logs through the forest with the golden plates hugged heavily to his chest.
Right now, I have a similar image of a dogged Monson, Holland and other apostles waddling away from critics, panting sweaty as they lug the Olden Plates on their large bellies.
Some less thoughtful critics say the golden plates weighed upwards of 200 lbs. Some less thoughtful apologists say they weighed around 50 lbs. I say they exactly weighed as little as the Olden Plates.
The Olden Plates are a metaphor that you might also call the albatross around the LDS theocrats’ necks. The LDS church is running from criticism, weighed down by old doctrines, still claimed to have originated on golden plates, papyri and from Joseph Smith’s imagination. These old plates, scrolls and visions are really really heavy in a world of science and the internet. The equivalent of the gravitational constant in the world of prophets has probably more than quadrupled in the past decade as old doctrines grow thicker, filled with bullshit.
As a child, listening to the Living Scriptures dramatized story of Joseph running from the bad anti-mormons, I had this cartoon image of him tearing off sheets of gold leaf from the plates and tossing them at his pursuers, to slow them down as they scurried for a little gold.
Perhaps that is what LDS theocrats have tried doing with the Topic Essays -- tearing off little parts of their Olden Plates, tossing them into the internet to slow down the critics. All that running must wear on them.
But exercise is good for the heart, Monsieur Monson. You too, Hounddog Holland. Running over, under, around and from the critics has done a lot of good over the past 180 years. If it hadn’t been for both believing critique and ex-mormon scholarship, the LDS Church would look a helluva lot different.
Without the changes wrought by inner and outer critics, Mormons might still be:
- living in polygamy
- considered racists
- living in the united order
- calling Adam their God
- making death oaths in their temple
- wearing ankle and wrist length red garments
- conscripted into the Mormon Militia
- sent out as Danites
- bartering their daughters and wives
- destroying printing presses
- living in a theocratic state of “Deseret”
- baptizing dead holocaust victims
- living in Nauvoo, or Independence or Kirtland or…
Another thing you wouldn’t have is the new 580-page Seminary Teacher Manual on Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. I feel like we're watching a couple of leafs of the Olden Plates floating back at us.
In this new Seminary Teacher manual, they raise a few of the issues they want the instructors to gently teach, namely:
- Multiple first vision versions (p. 20)
- Age of the earth (p. 280)
- Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (p. 204, pp. 477-480)
- Mountain Meadows Massacre (p. 523)
- Book of Abraham issues (p. 525)
- Implied post-manifesto polygamy (p. 530)
- Blacks and Priesthood (p. 545)
We can commend the LDS church for opening the door on the issue. The Topic Essays are a great start too. I believe this is the first in-depth discussion of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in an official LDS publication. I could be wrong. Here are some of the statements about Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
“Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey... Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands.” (p. 478)
“Do not speculate about whether plural marriage is a requirement for the celestial kingdom. We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation.” (p. 478)
“Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith.” (p. 479).
On p. 480, they offer a lengthy quote from Helen Mar Kimball speaking about her mother Vilate’s trials with polygamy, but not a thing about Helen marrying Joseph Smith at 15.
At least they admit that “by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives…” It was only a few decades ago that people claiming Joseph Smith married multiple wives were called anti-mormon.
My cursory look through the almost 600 pages (small print) manual indicates there are no mentions of:
- Woodruff’s and Snow’s teen brides (Emma Smoot Smith (15yo), Sarah Minnie (15), Mary Houtz(17)...)
My final thought is this: Why is the church introducing these issues into the seminary before they put them into Gospel Doctrine manuals and adult Sunday School curriculum?
Could it be an inoculation scheme? Get 'em while they’re young. I guess we'll know for sure, if they also update the adult material soon.