Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 2

“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.  Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man.”  -Nephi (2 Ne. 4:34).

First consider this.  President Woodruff made his now too-long-promulgated statement while he was the 4th President of the Church.  It was made at a time when the saints were sore afraid he had taken actions contrary to the will of the Lord by issuing the manifesto.  

By and large, faithful Latter-day Saints believed what they had been taught by Brigham Young and his counselors.  They believed what had been taught by John Taylor and his associates.  They believed what had been taught them by President Woodruff.  The doctrine these men taught the saints was that plural marriage was restored in these last times by the Prophet Joseph Smith and that it was here to stay; that no power on earth or in hell could remove the practice.  They learned that it was required for their exaltation.  They were taught that you were a coward if you abandoned the practice because of ungodly pressures from a wicked world.  They made eternal covenants in the temples to live it.  The saints were terrified that this was now the course that their own leaders were taking, contrary to everything that had been "revealed" concerning the matter.  

Woodruff wrote the following in his journal about the principle of plural marriage:

“God our heavenly Father, knowing that this is the only law, ordained by the Gods of eternity, that would exalt immortal beings to kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers and dominions…commanded Joseph Smith the prophet, and all Latter-day Saints, to obey this law, ‘or you shall be damned,’ saith the Lord.
“Now who shall we obey?  God or man?  My voice is that we obey God. …So say I as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I will not desert my wives and my children and disobey the commandments of God, for the sake of accommodating the public clamor of a nation steeped in sin and ripened in the damnation of hell.  I would rather go to prison and to death" (21 April 1879, in Wilford Woodruff’s Journal.  Taken from Briney’s Silencing Mormon Polygamy, p. 7).

Both John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff made claims that a revelation ending plural marriage would "never" come forth.  Heber J. Grant recorded a statement made to him by Wilford Woodruff:

“Had we yielded to that document every man of us would have been under condemnation before God.  The Lord never will give a revelation to abandon plural marriage" (Ibid, p. 31.  An excerpt from the Journals of Heber J. Grant.  The "document" referred to was proposed as a public declaration that the Mormons would no longer practice plural marriage.  Saints, including apostles, had requested that President Taylor issue a "revelation" or declaration that the saints would no longer continue the practice as a ploy to end federal persecution.  This same request was later made of President Woodruff.  Both men refused, stating the Lord would never issue such a revelation, and that they would be condemned by God if they signed such a document.).

There are many more details about all of this.  These are just snippets.  It is easier to get at a clear understanding of what President Woodruff believed about what he was saying, when you consider all of those details.  There are over fifty years of context that need to be understood before really understanding the situation he found himself in, and what he meant when he said neither he nor any other President of the Church would lead the saints astray.  Among other possible meanings, he was at very least trying to calm the hearts of the general membership of the Church during a time of tumult and severe change.  By revoking the practice of plural marriage he was contradicting the previous Church Presidents, and the saints were afraid he'd succumbed to political pressure.  

There is, however, important additional context for President Woodruff’s 1890 statement that is worth consideration.  This additional context is important not because it helps you understand the immediate circumstances that led to President Woodruff’s making the statement, or even what the statement itself may mean, but because this context helps you begin to consider some of the implications of what he said.

Wilford Woodruff had served faithfully beside Brigham Young during the 40 years previous to issuing the manifesto, and making this statement.  He loved President Young, and he loved what he taught.

“Every man in this room who has a particle of the Spirit of God knows that President Young is a Prophet of God and that God sustains him and he has the Holy Spirit and his doctrines are true" (27 Jan 1860, Minutes of Meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863 Book D, Appendix A.  Taken from Collier’s President Brigham Young’s Doctrine on Deity, p. xxx)

At President Young’s funeral Wilford Woodruff said:

“I have often felt in listening to the glorious principles of President Young, that the people here heard him so much that they hardly prized the beauty and the extent of the results and virtues of His teachings…Let us not forget the precious words of truth and wisdom he has taught us” (Ibid.).

To that point in history, President Woodruff had not found fault with the doctrines of Brigham Young.  Some of these doctrines are incredibly contrary to the feelings of contemporary Latter-day Saints. These doctrines at least include a denial of priesthood to the blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God, the law of adoption, and plural marriage.  Did President Woodruff have these doctrines in mind when he said the President of the Church would never lead the saints astray?  

At the time President Woodruff made this statement there had not been statements from either President Taylor or President Woodruff contradicting or correcting Brigham Young’s teachings, with the very recent exception of plural marriage, which the saints were outwardly (but not privately) abandoning.  In fact, when President Woodruff made his statement after issuing the manifesto he still had no intention of altogether abandoning the practice of plural marriage.  We must ask why President Young’s ideas went uncorrected, if what he was teaching was incorrect in their view?  Consider the following statement Wilford Woodruff made while he was President of the Church regarding the various teachings of President Young: 

“President Young led us a great many years.  He was a man of God, filled with revelation.  His teachings were attended by the inspirations of Almighty God…and in all his counsels the word of the Lord was with him.  He had but few revelations that were written and published to the world.  But we had the word of the Lord through him day by day" (Deseret Evening News, 21 April 1890.  Ibid. xxxiii.).

These are just a few of many examples that could be cited indicating Wilford Woodruff’s support of the teachings of his predecessors.  If he disagreed with their doctrines he did not express so either in public or in his private journals (After a meeting with the school of the prophets, for example, President Woodruff wrote in his journal: “President Young spoke of the first organization of this school by Joseph Smith the Prophet.  The word of wisdom was given in this school.  President Young said Adam was Michael the Ark angel & he was the Father of Jesus Christ & and was our God & that Joseph taught this principle.” (WWJ, 16 Dec. 1867).  Nothing in the full journal entry indicates Woodruff’s acceptance or rejection of the teaching.).

Are those doctrines true or false?  What did Wilford Woodruff think of them?  What are the implications of his statement that it isn't in the programme for the church President to lead us astray?  How do today's leaders feel about the doctrines that were taught in 19th century Mormonism?

1 comment:

  1. I think Pres Wilford Woodruff's comment that the president would never lead the people astray was meant as a secret message to the people, telling them that the manifesto was a front, and that plural marriage would continue in secret. However, we understand a totally different meaning today, and the devil runs with it.