I’ve been thinking about an alternative Mormon history. What if things had occurred differently. How would the Church be different today? Would there be fewer schisms?The original apostles were arranged in seniority by age. In 1838, Thomas B. Marsh was president of the Q12. As I’ve learned recently, he went after WW Phelps membership and had him excommunicated in early 1838, but Phelps returned. Following the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838, both Marsh and Phelps produced testimony about Mormon actions of Danite vigilante justice during hostilities. Phelps was excommunicated a second time and came back months later. This time, Marsh left for good. What if the situation was reversed? What if Marsh stayed and Phelps left?
Marsh lived until January 1866. If he had succeeded Joseph, his term of service would have cut into Brigham’s 30 year term of service considerably. (Brigham died in 1877.) Would the saints even have come to Utah under Marsh?
David Patten was second in line after Marsh. What if he hadn’t died during the Battle of Crooked River? Would he have outlived Brigham and Thomas?
What if John Taylor had succumbed to his wounds at Carthage? He obviously wouldn’t have received the 1886 revelation so important to fundamentalists declaring that polygamy was an eternal principle.
For that matter, even if he lived, what if Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt hadn’t been demoted? Hyde survived Brigham by a year, until Nov 1878. Pratt lived until 1881. Taylor lived until 1887. Would succession have changed? The Church functioned without a president for up to 3 years before the first presidency was reorganized during the 19th century. How would Hyde and Pratt have influenced the Church as the top leaders?
What do you think?
I prefer to think of an alternate history in which Asael Smith had survived long enough to join the Church and travel to Kirtland. His example of thrift and hard work would have had a positive impact on the Saints, and likely would have prevented the financial crisis that caused so much harm.
Asael would have also had a moderating effect on the Saints, that would have prevented much of the nonsense from Marsh in the first place. It Asael had survived, his influence may well have allowed the Saints to remain in Ohio permanently. It is likely that the martyrdom never would have occurred.
I’ve always wondered how LDS theology might have evolved if Joseph Smith had lived longer. His most adventuresome oration was given just prior to his martyrdom, the King Follett funeral discourse. Who knows what new cosmology Joseph might have developed?
“How would Hyde and Pratt have influenced the Church as the top leaders?”
Just out of curiosity, how much did Hyde and Pratt value Emma Smith? Because, of course, Brigham Young was not a fan.
Roger if you like King Follet you really should study Joseph’s actual last sermon “The Sermon in the Grove “ given 10 days before his death. The King Follet was given April 1844. The Sermon in the Grove in June 1844. Of the tow the Sermon is the theologically more significant of the two. I highly recommend it.
Okay, I found the “Sermon in the Grove” online (but then, what isn’t these days?) and read it. Well, after making it about 2/3rds the way through, my honest reaction was how much it reminded me of the rantings of a cult leader.
Institutions, including religious ones, must have some kind of checks and balances. Otherwise, speculations end up as certainties.
“The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search of truth may lead. Truth is often found in the most unexpected places. He must, with fearless and open mind insist that facts are far more important than any cherished, mistaken beliefs, no matter how unpleasant the facts or how delightful the beliefs”
Hugh B. Brown
General Conference, October 1962
“We are at home with the most advanced truths discovered by scientists and with all competent philosophic thought—with truth wherever found—because our religion enjoins in us a love of knowledge and education, encourages us to seek understanding through the broadening of our vision and the deepening of our insight.”
Hugh B. Brown:
General Conference, April 1964
Hugh B. Brown was a member of several first presidencies under David O. McKay until a break with tradition was made and he was excluded from a subsequent first presidency when Joseph Fielding Smith became president of the church. Elder Brown died before reaching the position within the quorum of the twelve where he would become president of the church. (This brings up the issue of determining leaders and whether our current method of choosing the highest ranking but usually oldest or nearly oldest apostle is the best way and of whether having a more democratic method of chosing leaders might be appropriate to consider. Gregory Prince and others have discussed the topic and have some views worth considering.)
Following the approach outlined by Hugh B. Brown, the church could have taken a direction that may have avoided many of the current issues that are causing crises within the church at this time.
Brown’s approach would have avoided the anti-intellectualism that has led to covid denialism, anti-mask, and anti-vaccine views that are currently so prevalent among church members. It would have allowed the church to follow scientific findings with regard to LGBT issues. The church would have been able to form policies that may have avoided the despair, failed mixed-orientation marriages (including the fallout on children of those marriages), and suicides that have resulted from a limited understanding and denial of the issue, as well as the loss of so many amazing LGBT individuals that have not been able to stay in the church but would have had so much to contribute. It would have allowed us to follow the paths outlined by historians such as Leonard J. Arrington to deal with the uncomfortable parts of our history in a way that allows us to acknowledge past wrongs and move forward with integrity.
It might not be too late to embrace such an approach, but it might require following principles and practices prescribed by truth and reconcilation commissions.
Ezra Taft Benson and Spencer Kimball were ordained apostles the same day but Kimball was older so he went first making him the senior apostle. If Benson would have gone first he might have have almost 20 years as church president and the race / priesthood scenario might have played out much differently and the impact of Benson’s right wing politics even greater.
We’ve had several changes in succession policies, age in the quorum, uninterrupted service, etc.
Seems BY and the Church have changed seniority rules several times that could have led to a number of different Church Presidents.
JPV: Most members of the Church don’t realize how divisive the succession crisis was after Joseph Smith died. And they don’t realize how different the Church would be had it gone in another direction (Rigdon, Strange, Smith). Brigham Young won the power struggle and governed with an iron fist. I wonder how differently the Church would look today had it gone in one of those other three directions.
Side note: If Joseph Smith was a true profit of God leading his Church, why wasn’t succession worked out before his death?
Side note 2: why were Church members receiving major doctrine via speeches (King Follet, etc.) at the end of Joseph’s life? Is that how we think the creator of the universe reveals his doctrine? Through speeches?
I just read “The Sermon in the Grove”. I’d never even known of its existence before, so thank you for the info Bellamy. The way I read it, the doctrinal core of it is the plurality of Gods. JS teaches that there are many gods – we already have three in the form of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, so why not have many more? However, he makes it clear that we only worship one God. This doesn’t defuse the explosive idea that the universe is full of many gods.
That doctrine is the number one reason the Protestants/Catholics will never accept Mormons as Christians. The Nicene Creed was developed to emphatically reject the [pagan] idea of multiple gods. [I’m not a historian, but I’ve read two books about the history of the Nicene Creed: “When Jesus Became God” by Richard E. Rubinstein and “How Jesus Became God” by Bart D. Ehrman.] The teaching that Jesus Christ was a separate being from God was deemed blasphemous by the Councils of Nicea. Joseph Smith threw Mormons off the [Trinitarian] Christian team with that teaching alone.
The Sermon in the Grove also contains defensive and angry rhetoric. It sounds like JS is replying to his critics and cautioning that the Church is being purged. It’s been a while since I read the King Follett Sermon, but I recall thinking that JS was also fighting back against his critics in portions of that text as well. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like everyone in the early Church took everything JS said as doctrine.
So my thought on this topic is that if JS had lived longer, those schisms in the Church might have happened before his death. In fact, many people might have left, until the Restored Church ended up like the Shakers, a quaint little community with a fun origin story but not much influence nowadays.
I really like Melinda’s comment. It seems like Joseph Smith was getting more and more unhinged, err, I mean DOCTRINALLY INNOVATIVE near the end of his life. It seems like he lived the perfect amount of time to get the Church launched and then was killed before his further weirdness could kill it. (If I were more of a believer, I might even see the hand of God in the timing.) I can totally imagine, like Melinda, that if he had lived longer, that he would have splintered the Church with all his secret societies within secret societies, and Mormonism, being less than two decades old, may have almost entirely collapsed. Lots of sects get started; few survive very long.
Is that how we think the creator of the universe reveals his doctrine? Through speeches?
Dang! There goes the Sermon on the Mount out the window.
I’m sitting in the Cliffside in StG having lunch. A great place to contemplate theology and cosmology. I think Joseph started to become unhinged in Kirkland. So I’m not so worried about the craziness if he had lived longer. The Church has been reasonably successful at losing all kinds of doctrine. Think blood atonement, Adam-God, polygamy, black ban, etc. In fact, Prez Hinkley backed off some of King Follett stuff, as did BRM.
So I can’t help but feel cheated that I didn’t get more of Joseph’s speculations. In the mission field during the mid-1960’s, the King Follett kept me company. The cosmology seemed to make more sense than standard Christian beliefs about the hereafter. The Groove sermon, however, doesn’t really excite me. But that is only one example of future possibilities. I’ve got wonder where he was headed. Unhinged or not.
I love the idea of eternal progression and you can take your knowledge with you. Too bad I now agnostic.