It was a very busy week this week. Dr. Daniel Stone and I covered a lot of interesting topics! On Christmas Day in 1832, Joseph Smith had a revelation that the Civil War would begin in South Carolina. Almost 30 years later, it happened. William Bickerton was impressed with the revelation, and thought it would bring about the end of the world. The revelation proclaimed that slaves would rise up against their masters. Would it allow for black ordination? How did Church members react?
Daniel: I believe it’s in 1871. The little Redstone branch, it’s called the racist doctrine. The Little Red Stone or that’s how I talk about it in the book of the Little Redstone branch in Pennsylvania doesn’t want to give equal partnership and equal rights to African-Americans and they believe that black people are below white people.
Most of America was racist and from our standing. The South believed in slavery and even a lot of people in the north didn’t necessarily believe in slavery, but they definitely, most people in the North didn’t believe that Africans were equal to whites.
And you start to see that even within the Bickertonite movement, there are members that don’t believe that African-Americans are equal to white people or to the average Americans. And even after the war, African-Americans, at least African-American men are given equal citizenship rights to white men. And there’s people in the congregation, that little Redstone congregation. that don’t agree with that, especially within the church. They’re going to be barred from the priesthood and all these other things.
GT: Now is this in Pennsylvania?
Daniel: This is in Pennsylvania. So, this is Union country after the war. So, what ends up happening is one of the conferences, somebody, I believe one of the apostles, it was Joseph Astin I believe has to write a letter and send it to little Redstone and tell them. I really like this letter because it’s very politically minded.
And, they use the scriptures to kind of show, to kind of ease them in, to show them. So, they say, listen, in the New Testament, we read that the gentiles were looked down upon by the Jews. They were considered unclean. But then the apostle Peter has that dream where God tells them, don’t consider the gentiles unclean anymore. The Gospel brings them up. It says, “So too have we been taught,” or “we’ve been led,” I think the term is used. “We’ve been led to believe or to think,” that black people, I think they used the term Negro or colored people. It’s colored, I believe they used. “We’ve been led to believe that the colored people are below us, but the gospel brings them up and brings them to have equal access with the supper of the Lord,” or something like that. Very political, very well read, but trying to say no, they’re equal to us and even if you don’t think that they are, secularly the gospel brings them up. So, we are to give them equal access to everything that we have and they are to be considered everything that we have.
Can a prophet make mistakes, even in prophecy and revelation? William Bickerton, a prophet in the Church of Jesus Christ said yes, prophets make mistakes. Dr. Daniel Stone will give us more information in this great conversation.
Daniel: William Bickerton especially towards the end of his life, recognized that prophets were fallible, even I believe it was during the Civil War.
So very early on his people, including him, can even recognize that men can make mistakes even though they’re considered a prophet of God. It is possible that a prophet can false prophesy.
GT: Wow, that’s very interesting.
Daniel: And that could just be from their own wants and desires. And even people in my tradition, I brought this up during a men’s class one time that I was teaching, and I tried to bring it up, when we were talking about the gift of prophecy. I said, there are instances in the scriptures were prophets get it wrong, but they’re still called prophets. I believe Nathan is one of them. I’d have to look. There was examples and I bring up William Bickerton for one of them. I personally believe Joseph Smith. I am a believer, so I’m going to take my academic hat off for a second and say, I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Because I have to believe in the Book of Mormon, which I do, to say that. But I think Joseph Smith might have let his mind get to certain things. And that’s okay because we read prophets in the Old Testament do that sometimes, quite often.
William Bickerton eventually lost control of the church he started. How did his apostles oust the prophet. Are there parallels with LDS Church succession? Dr. Daniel Stone tells us.
Daniel: You basically had the Bickertonite group that is supporting Bickerton. The people that are detractors of Bickerton are excommunicating everybody from the Bickertonite group because they’re saying, well, if you support Bickerton, you’re an apostate. And then William Cadman actually held an ad hoc court within the community to prove that William Bickerton was an adulterer. He really believed the evidence. He acts as prosecutor for eight hours calling witnesses from the community and the jury is made up of all non-Bickertonites and he purposely did that to prove to the community once and for all. Because if he could get the community as a whole on his side, then he knows that the church can then continue forward and William Cadman will be the leader. He believes he will be the leader because he’s the president of the Twelve. And what ends up happening is William Cadman does not get the verdict that he wants.
I found it really interesting that the President of the Quorum of Twelve took over leadership, just like Brigham Young did in the LDS Church. Here are some questions for discussion.
- Do you think the LDS ban on black member had to happen?
- What do you think of Bickerton’s reasoning to never have a ban?
- Do you agree that a prophet can be mistaken in revelation and still be a prophet?
- Are there LDS revelations you think are not from God?
- Did you find it ironic that the President of the Quorum of Twelve took Bickerton’s spot?
1) No it didn’t have to happen. It happened because the cultural norms of early Mormon leaders were racist. A simple perusal of Brigham Young’s thoughts on race reveal as much.
2) This makes perfect sense to me. Pauline Christianity appeared to be a break from Judaism in that it regarded bloodline to be irrelevant. Early Mormonism was strongly vested in trying to make sense of and apply the Old Testament.
3) I am more interested in what actual makes someone a prophet. Is it the ability to accurately predict the future? If so, then where have Joseph Smith or any other LDS prophets accurately predicted the future beyond vague statements that anyone could make? The so-called Civil War prophecy is unimpressive since it appears to mimic in part a piece written in the New York Courier and Enquirer reprinted in the Painesville Telegraph (which Joseph Smith easily could have had access to while in Kirtland) just 4 days before Joseph Smith made his so-called prophecy. The piece, entitled ‘The Crisis’ responds to the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and muses about the likely dismemberment of the US stemming from activities in South Carolina. Besides the Civil War prophecy gets all sorts of things wrong. War did not pour out upon all nations because of the American Civil War. In fact it had no relation to any other war already going on in the world and it caused no other wars to occur elsewhere. The idea that the Civil War prophecy is evidence of actual prophecy is really, really weak.
4) No I don’t. But clearly current LDS leaders do. Just read Dallin H. Oaks’ ‘Two Lines of Communication’ talk.
“Do you think the LDS ban on black member had to happen?”
No. I have no idea when this change took place or the reasons for it.
What do you think of Bickerton’s reasoning to never have a ban?
I believe he was correct but also somewhat idealistic. The purest church of all has one member: its founder!
“Do you agree that a prophet can be mistaken in revelation and still be a prophet?”
Maybe. If the revelation is specific, verbal, and unambiguous AND the person receiving it has some reason to be sure it is coming from God and not God’s enemies, then the revelation itself will be accurate and pure. But the moment he or she publishes such things, now they become vulnerable to various interpretations and nuances of meaning. In English particularly it is probably impossible to publish so little as a single sentence and still have it understood the same way by all readers.
“Are there LDS revelations you think are not from God?”
Probably; but with a caution on the word “revelation”. Some declarations might not even be revelations. Furthermore, there’s a continuum of specificity on revelations from direct verbal instruction which is probably extremely rare, to inspirations which you, me or the prophet then interprets and puts into words but might really just be last night’s pizza. I also consider most revelations and inspirations to be using the power of God (his light or influence) but I doubt that God Himself is issuing revelations very often. There’s a vast army of spirits and angels that do the grunt work of giving inspiration and revelation to pretty much anyone that seeks.
“Did you find it ironic that the President of the Quorum of Twelve took Bickerton’s spot?”
As I understand, at the end of the civil war, only two Union states allowed free black men to vote. By our standards today, almost everyone was racist in those days.