How Far Would Brigham Young Have To Go…?

How far would Brigham Young have to go to cause you to have a crisis of faith or weaken your testimony?

That is a question that crossed my mind as I read this report (hat tip to the Juvenile instructor). To summarize, a man who was a secretary for President Young had a falling out with the prophet, got excommunicated, and died under mysterious circumstances. And now his diary has been found. It is written in 19th century shorthand, and must be translated. Speculation as to what this diary might contain covers a wide spectrum. So if this diary contains a significant amount of dirt on Brigham Young, would this have an affect on your faith or testimony?

As I have considered this, I do not think any information would sway my testimony in the long term. Regardless of how bad the information might sound. This is due, In part, to my belief that church leaders are not infallible. These are people with weakness, and are capable of sin and error like any of us are.

So if this diary reveals some high level of scandal, I believe I would feel for Brigham Young similar to the way I feel about David from the Old Testament. A chosen man who may have committed some level of sin. Such hypothetical scandal might be an embarrassment to explain to others, but I would not anticipate a personal crisis of faith for myself. I do not worship church leaders.

So even if there is something disturbing in this diary, it does not change any of the anchors to my testimony. God still lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Book of Mormon is the word of God, the Priesthood has been restored, and there is a Plan of Salvation.

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21 Responses to “How Far Would Brigham Young Have To Go…?”


  1. 1 John November 7, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    I wonder how honest with himself the diarist is. Should we accept his work on the failings of Brigham Young as unquestioned truth? Or as another window on the world of the prophet, to be compared with others.

  2. 2 Sunstoned November 7, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Have you read BY’s teachings in the Journal of Discourses? This guy was way over the top. Blood Atonement, very racist statements, Adam is God (yes, he taught this for 3 decades).
    How anyone could consider this guy a prophet is way beyond me.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson November 8, 2007 at 6:03 am

    John:

    Good point. This is just one guy, who may have had an axe to grind. His perspective may have become very screwed up as far as we know.

    Sunstoned:

    I agree that BY was over the top. He said things in a very dramatic and deliberately shocking way at times. I believe he could be described as often being hyperbolic. As members of the church we have had to accept things as objective as polygamy practiced by early prophets of the church. If we can accept things like that in our modern world, we can probably accept almost anything written in some diary.

  4. 4 Steve M November 8, 2007 at 7:34 am

    I can’t believe that anything in the journal would be much more “shocking” than what we already know of Brigham Young. It seems to me that most members of the Church are already aware of some of his eccentricities, and are perhaps used to the idea that he may have been “over the top,” if not a little crazy. For whatever reason, such dark revelations would probably be much more threatening if they had to do with Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young. Members of the Church seem to have more invested in Joseph’s personal morality than Brigham’s.

    I am troubled, however, at how easily we right off blemishes using the “nobody’s perfect” excuse. Because Mormons believe that the powers of God can’t be exercised except upon principles of righteousness (according to D&C 121), we can’t totally separate Brigham’s prophetic character from his private life. While many mistakes are relatively minor and may be expected, LDS doctrine makes it clear that there is a point at which one’s errors become so egregious as to disqualify him from acting in the name of God. Would Mormons be willing to draw that line with respect to a past prophet? At what point do we admit that, were certain allegations (e.g., murder) true, Brigham would have thereby forfeited his prophetic authority? And what implications would that have for how we view presidents of the Church today?

  5. 5 Dr. B. November 8, 2007 at 7:43 am

    I took an interesting history classes many years ago by Gene Campbell where he shared some of BY’s playful shenigans like marking an x on his wives doors, chewing tobacco for tooth aches, wrestling with Wilford Woodruff for a polygamous wife. It doesn’t make me think any less of the guy he lived in a frontier time under different conditions than today. If you take him in the context of his time he was a legend when he helped build a railroad, set up a territorial government, fought Johnston’s army, etc. So there are no men on the moon or cheese for that matter. He transported thousands of people in a shrewd manner and preserved the Church. He served a mission in his own way. I think anything this diary reveals will just add to the color of his uniqueness.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson November 8, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Steve:

    I think you are right about our holding JS to higher standards than BY. But I think we kinda have to. If similar things were known about a prophet other than BY, it might be more disturbing for a while, but I suspect we would get over it.

    I actually think it is healthy to maintain such a separation (between the personality and the prophet as a calling). I think today we might rely on the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 as groups that would balance something ‘strange’ that a prophet today might say or do. Probably moreso than we would have in the past. I don’t think BY would get away with some of his over the top sayings today.

    I think that unless the authority is taken away, it will still exist and be recognized by God. Much like an unworthy priest who blesses the sacrament perhaps.

    I think one of the implications for today is that we place a higher regard for General Authorities as a group or body than we used to. Their voice seems more united today than it might have been in earlier times. I think there is a safety in this.

    DR. B:

    I think you are right.

  7. 7 Steve M November 8, 2007 at 11:02 am

    I don’t think we really disagree, Eric.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t a “prophet acting as a man”/”prophet acting as a prophet” distinction. Certainly what President Hinckley eats for breakfast probably doesn’t have to do with his prophetic half, for instance. And I agree that, taken as a whole, the presiding quorums balance out the idiosyncrasies that any individual member of them might exhibit.

    All I am saying, however, is that you can’t entirely divorce a Church president’s private life from his prophetic life, because LDS belief makes his fitness to act as a prophet dependent on his personal worthiness. And I’m not just talking about authority (like the unworthy priest blessing the sacrament). I’m talking about worthiness to receive inspiration, revelation, etc. Members are regularly taught, in order to receive revelation and to allow God to work through them, they must be worthy. Missionaries are taught that if they are disobedient, the Spirit will leave and they will be unfit to receive inspiration regarding the needs of their investigators.

    The same rule should apply to the president of the Church. Therefore, we coudln’t just right off Brigham Young’s potentially egregious sins (were they found to exist) as being run-of-the-mill human errors while still insisting that he was still worthy to receive inspiration, lead the Church, etc. In other words, his private life is not entirely divorced from his prophetic character.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson November 8, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    I don’t think we disagree either. At least not very much.

  9. 9 DougT November 8, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    From my viewpoint I know the church is true because God says so, and he is right about everything. I have challenged his thinking before and come out wrong every time. So regardless of what Brigham may or may not have done (and I have great faith in Brigham anyway – his spirit is demonstrated in his speaking) it wouldn’t effect my faith in it all either, Eric.

  10. 10 Darrell November 9, 2007 at 12:28 am

    I agree. My testimony does not rely on Brigham Young, or any other Prophet, for that matter. It relies on my experience with the Holy Ghost–the confirmation of the still, small voice. It does not matter what man or men say, or what historians may reveal. The Revelation that I have received over-rides all else.

  11. 11 Jared November 9, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    The source of my testimony doesn’t have anything to do with Brigham Young.

    I’m thankful for Brigham Young and his teachings. I have no trouble accepting him as a prophet. I’ve read extensively from his writings. I stand in awe of him.

    I also understand that he lived in a very different age than me. My generation is far removed from the times and circumstances of his day. I’m not in a position to judge him.

    I dare say that we would have a great deal of difficulty dealing with Captain Moroni’s full history if it were available. He was a man of “blood”– a warrior, and a man of God. I can imagine his perspective on many issues would be very strange to us.

  12. 12 Bookslinger November 10, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    “Members are regularly taught, in order to receive revelation and to allow God to work through them, they must be worthy. Missionaries are taught that if they are disobedient, the Spirit will leave and they will be unfit to receive inspiration regarding the needs of their investigators.”

    You’re missing an important nuance or exception. Unworthiness causes us to lose the right to receive revelation at our request, but unworthiness does not absolutely prevent Heavenly Father from pouring out a revelation upon an unworthy person when it suits His need.

    As an unworthy person (still an ex-member), to whom God has sometimes given specific commandments via revelation, I can say that it is rather painful to be on the receiving end of such communications while in a state of relative unworthiness. Sin is like static on the channel or spiritual frequency that causes us to not hear or not understand what the Holy Ghost is trying to communicate. Sometimes (not always) God “cranks up the volume” to get through the static. That’s when it penetrates to your bones and causes you to tremble.

    As an ex-member with a testimony (ie: I know better), I’m still under obligation to strive to keep the commandments and strive to maintain outward and inward worthiness to the best of my ability. When I’m honestly striving to be in line, the communications are not painful, and are indeed more frequent. But when I slack off, they are fewer and more uncomfortable.

    An Old Testament example of this is Balaam the prophet, who was working for the “bag guy” Balak. See Numbers chapters 22-24. He was a prophet of God, who had more or less sided with the bad guys. But, he did receive true revelation from God, and prophesied about the Israelites’ victory, much to the dismay of the King (Barak) who wanted him to prophesy the Israelites’ defeat.

    Balaam even was shown the miracle of the talking ass.

    When the Israelites won against Barak, Balaam was put to death because he was on Barak’s side.

    This illustrates that even unworthy prophets can get real true revelation when it suits Heavenly Father’s purposes.

    So to say that an unworthy prophet (or anyone such as a bishop or Stake Pres or even a missionary) absolutely can’t receive revelation is wrong.

    And I think many of us can think of situations where unworthy missionaries are blessed for the sake of the investigators. And where unworthy parents may be blessed for the sake of kids.

    So I guess the point of all this is in support of what Wilford Woodruff said/wrote. That God won’t let a prophet lead the church astray.

    So even if BY did cause some confusion with some of those weird things we read about in Journal of Discourses, BY was still God’s official prophet, and we need not worthy if any president of the church is a “fallen prophet” or is worthy enough to receive revelation.

    So if God can pour out revelation upon an unworthy ex-member like me, then God can surely pour out revelation upon bishops, etc., no matter what their state, when it suits His purposes.

  13. 13 Bookslinger November 10, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    That should have read:

    “… and we need not _worry_ if any president of the church is a “fallen prophet” or is worthy enough to receive revelation.”

  14. 14 Mikey November 10, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    I think you are right about our holding JS to higher standards than BY. But I think we kinda have to. If similar things were known about a prophet other than BY, it might be more disturbing for a while, but I suspect we would get over it

    You guys want to lower the bar for BY ? How much lower can it go.

    Secret Polygamy – Out right lying about it. Then there is the little issue of marrying other men’s wives. What telling Heber C. Kimball’s 14 year old daughter

    ‘If you will take this step (Marrying Joseph), it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred’

    He did marry her, and another 14 year old as well. Sound like “Unrighteous dominion” to anyone ? Marrying 14 year olds today will get you a sex offender status. All told there were at least 33 different wives.

    Declaring himself ‘king of the world’ ? More court cases than I can count.

    Then there are the problems with the Book of Abraham. Kinderhook plates ?

    I could go on and on.

    So, just how low of a bar is unacceptable for a past prophet ? What about today – just what would a present prophet or apostle have to do ? Is there nothing that can’t be excused ?

  15. 15 Bookslinger November 10, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Mikey: (Yawn.) Those things have already been discussed ad nauseum on the LDS blogs and various websites. Anything new?

  16. 16 Jared November 10, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Mikey

    I haven’t read where any of these women complained about Joseph. I know of one who may illustrate what typically happened to the women Joseph married. She said an angel would have to come to persuade her to marry Joseph. Joseph told her that could be arranged.

    Go here and read the account she gave at BYU when she was 80+ years old.

    http://www.thefrees.com:16080/history/taxonomy/term/73/0

  17. 17 DougT November 13, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Mikey

    You may not be aware but Pygmies marry at 8. And the ancient Egyptians married at 13. Many peoples have married at these ages throughout history. While the USA may have laws that restrict sex until 18, that isn’t usual. Canada is 14, Holland is 12, Australia is 16. The majority of the world doesn’t accept your theory that you know what age is too young. In fact the majority of the world can’t make up its mind. You go on the assumption that the USA must be correct. I would love to see your proof. As would jail psychologists trying to prove such nonsense in sex offender courses. Because inmates listening to them think they must come from some other planet.

    I can tell you from personal experience that I made a well informed decision about sex at the age of 12. And I had only just heard about it. My spirit analysed the feelings demonstrated by the person telling me and came to a good conclusion.

    We develop the ability to determine good from evil during the age of 7 and need repentance and baptism by 8. That I have also experienced.

    The only restriction I see beyond there is what age can a person physically handle child bearing? Have you done studies on this?

  18. 18 TJ Thompson November 16, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    If your testimony lies in the merit of men, your testimony will never be strong enough to sustain a glorious celestial salvation. Nevertheless, I love President Young and his insights, how he was never afraid to tell you if you were bound for hell, and I think the world needs more people like him, willing to tell you what he really believes and what is really going on. That’s what the Saints needed in order to make it to Utah. They needed a tough prophet, and Brigham Young was definitely tough. But he was also very caring and was a great friend to Joseph Smith, and he stood up for the Prophet on various occasions. The world needs honesty, and Brigham Young had that, and he was a good enough friend to put your own welfare above the importance of the friendship. He might have lost some friends in this manner, but think about it: would you rather have a friend tell you want to hear as you continue on a bad path, or a friend who risks the friendship to help you achieve salvation if you listen? Well, some didn’t listen, but that isn’t President Young’s fault. And I wouldn’t trust any one source from a lost friend; it’s not as if Joseph Smith’s lost friends were honest about him, even collectively. So why trust one man’s version of things when we have the fact that God chose Brigham Young to execute one of the most important events in American AND Church history?

  19. 19 Susan H. December 29, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Thought-provoking question. I am of the opinion that Brigham was the right prophet for the times. The church was just “taking off” and we needed a strong, opinionated Prophet to guide us. I just need to remember the times, and realize that there was no such thing as being politically correct. If I were to question everything, I may spend all of my time mistrusting and miss some great blessings. No one ever told me that being a member of our church would be easy, but I have been promised that it would be worth it. Susan

  20. 20 TJ Thompson December 30, 2007 at 12:28 am

    I checked back and noticed some comments again I didn’t address last time I commented. D&C 132:61 makes it sufficiently clear that virginity was required up until marriage, as we have always believed, but applying this to polygamy, I believe it is obvious why some wives were young: they were the unmarried ones. Perhaps one day the people of this world will stop chastening the things of God and begin chastening the things of the world. The only thing that makes marrying at age 14 “wrong” is the social norm of our day. No one seems to have a problem with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, regardless of Romeo being 20-or-so and Juliet being about 9 or 10. Where is the outcry? Where are the forced tears and pronouncements of moral highground? God doesn’t have to abide by rules set up by men. Social norms are of the world, which is not the kingdom of God. Society is prone to error. I don’t believe that God is.


  1. 1 Juvenile Instructor Trackback on November 7, 2007 at 10:24 pm

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