Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Martin Handcart Company and Brigham Young

Our Gospel Doctrine class recently covered Lesson 35, which reviewed the bittersweet Martin and Willie handcart experiences. Of course, the famous Solomon Kimball quote was used:

After they [Martin Company] had given up in despair, after all hopes had vanished, after every apparent avenue of escape seemed closed, three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue, and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of the illfated handcart company across the snowbound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, 'that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end'” (Solomon F. Kimball, “Belated Emigrants of 1856,” Improvement Era 17, no. 4 (February 1914): 288) (emphasis added).

Solomon Kimball was the younger brother of David P. Kimball, and was nine years old at the time of the rescue. Undoubtedly, this report spurs thoughts of sacrifice and faith among the faithful Saints. Indeed, it is an accurate example of true consecration and being found possessed of charity (Moro. 7:47). However, although most LDS are familiar with Kimball’s account, it is not the only account of the rescue that we have access to. In fact, several other accounts shed additional perspective on the heroic rescue, and potentially expose inaccuracies or misstatements on the part of Kimball. A few examples are listed below:

1) Evidence indicates that more than just Kimball, Grant, and Huntington braved the icy waters of the Sweetwater that day. In fact, one account reports that there was a group of at least twenty-seven rescuers. (Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years among the Indians. A True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author’s Experiences among the Natives (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890), 63.) Of the rescuers mentioned by Daniel W. Jones, eighteen were positively identified as assisting the Martin Company on the day they crossed the Sweetwater.

2) Of those positively identified as rescuers during the Sweetwater crossing, none were actually eighteen years of age. As for the ages of a few of them on November 4, 1856, C. Allen Huntington was 24 and was the oldest of those named in the records. Stephen W. Taylor was 20. Ira Nebeker and David P. Kimball were both 17. George W. Grant, the youngest of the named group, was only 16 years old. To be able to physically carry several individuals over icy banks and through soft river bottoms, these boys must have been quite powerful and well-built at their respective ages

3) Evidence indicates that the rescuers did not “carr[y] nearly every member of the illfated handcart company across the snowbound stream,” as reported by Kimball. There were upwards of 500 emigrants stranded on the one side of the Sweetwater and, although the rescuers helped a great many across the river, they physically carried only a portion of the company across. Exactly how many is not known, but several factors argue against the idea that three rescuers carried the whole company, or even a majority, over the Sweetwater. At least one factor is that there was simply not enough time to carry 500 individuals across the river. Reports indicates that the company did not reach the Sweetwater until the afternoon, leaving them only mere hours before darkness fell.

4) While some of the rescuers reported health problems resulting from the rescue, most lived long and active lives that terminated in deaths that cannot be definitively attributed to their exposure to the icy water that day. Here are a few examples:

George W. Grant was the first of the named heroes to die, passing away in August 1872, at age 32 and nearly sixteen years after the Sweetwater rescue. He served a 4-year mission to England just five years after the rescue.

David P. Kimball died next at the age of 44. Just a few months after the rescue he married Caroline Williams following which they honeymooned on Antelope Island (huh, go figure, I never thought Antelope Island to be a honeymoon destination). He helped build the transcontinental railroad through Utah (1868–69), and during the 1870’s he worked as a teamster in Arizona. Concerning his death, the Deseret News erroneously reported that he had died as an effect of the Sweetwater rescue, but the newspaper later retracted that statement explaining that his death was brought on by “pneumonia and lung fever” he contracted during a snowstorm in 1881.

C. Allen Huntington died shortly before his 65th birthday. He was apparently the rebel among the rescuers, having served time in the Utah territorial penitentiary in March 1860 for charges of horse and cattle thievery. It was also reported that he had once been in a knife fight where he encountered a ‘Greaser’ and “he had cut him.” (Reported by Langdon Gibson to Dana Gibson, December 25, 1889, copy included in Otis Marston Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.)

Ira Nebeker died shortly before his 65th birthday also. He reportedly died of kidney failure. During his long life he worked as a stockman and a farmer, and also served in the “Indian wars.” There is no indication of his death being brought on from the effects of the rescue.

Stephen W. Taylor died at 84, six years after Solomon Kimball’s account appeared in print. During his life, Taylor served a 3-year mission to England, served as a messenger for the territorial legislature, and served in the Black Hawk War. He was also a Salt Lake City police officer and was appointed as Sherriff of Summit County.

5) Solomon Kimball’s declaration that Brigham Young publicly proclaimed that this one heroic act alone guaranteed "everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom; worlds without end" is the only account of such a statement. Did the Prophet actually seal the eternal exaltation of these men as a result of this one heroic act? What about Huntington’s colorful past as a thief and a knife wielding outlaw?

Kimball’s statement is not supported and is likely taken out of context considering the following scriptural truths:

I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end” (D&C 53:7)

There is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore, let the Church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also” (D&C 20:32 –34)

In Kimball’s first published account of the Sweetwater rescue, he included a different, more plausible promise: “When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and declared that this act alone would immortalize them” (Solomon F. Kimball, “Our Pioneer Boys,” Improvement Era 11 (July 1908): 679)

[NOTE: The preceding information was mostly derived from Chad M. Orton’s article in BYU Studies 45, no.3, (2006), entitled “The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look.” For those interested in the Sweetwater rescue, I highly recommend the article.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Thank Thee, Oh God, For A Profit - Part 1

One of my pet peeves, among many like “Thank-imonies” and “burying” one’s testimony, is when people use the church to sell something. Even when the church gets involved in a worthy capital venture I get uneasy, but am very willing to give it deference because there is usually always a good explanation.

And then there are situations where church relationships or positions are abused. Other times it is rather harmless but comes across as not really appropriate. Fast forward to this past Sunday when I was walking through the halls because my son wanted to play basketball in the EQ overflow hall (nothing makes Joseph Smith’s teachings more inspiring than looking at the basketball net over my head or sitting on the 3-pt line). As I walked by the RS room, I noticed a few tables set out with various goods. By the goods there were small price tags next to each item. See pictures below (I apologize if they are fuzzy, but the light in the corridor isn’t really designed for a smart phone camera. But I did get them, didn’t I?).

I do not know what this was for, whether as part of an activity or a charitable enterprise. But I came away with a feeling that it was completely inappropriate. I do believe that there are some situations where goods may be sold at church meetings, but they should be very limited to things like Bishop’s Storehouse items. Even that makes me feel uncomfortable, but I can live with it. However, birthday signs (you can see the bottom of the sign in picture #2), metallic clipboards, crafty-creepy-Texas-Ranger-wooden tombstone imitations, and doilies (?) while appropriate for the Quilted Bear, are not appropriate to be sold at church. Perhaps I will try to sell tools or DVDs in Elder’s Quorum? Perhaps a stuffed elk?

I don’t think I really need to add some verses without people thinking about it, but think about Jesus and the money changers:

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

John 2:14-15

My question to the reader is whether it is appropriate to sell items like this in church? Part 2 will follow, hopefully it won’t take me too long to post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gazelem's Seer Stones

I have recently been studying about Joseph Smith’s usage of seer stones in place of the Urim & Thummim for the process of translating the Book of Mormon. Since some of the information I encountered was new to me, I thought a few quotes and commentary may help those who read this better understand at least a portion of how the Book of Mormon was translated.

It should be noted that the expression Urim & Thummim is never used in the Book of Mormon, but was likely adopted by the Prophet after becoming familiar with the Old Testament revelatory device through his translation of the Old Testament. Instead, the Urim & Thummim wielded by the Prophet included the Nephite interpreters comprising “two stones” fastened into the “two rims of a bow” as the “interpreters.” (See Mosiah 28:13; Ether 3:23) In other words, the Urim & Thummim known to the Prophet consisted primarily of a couple of seer stones that could be attached to a device for ease of viewing. It eventually became common for members of the Church to call the Nephite interpreters the Urim & Thummim, which isn’t exactly correct.

When he finally received the Nephite interpreters in September of 1827, Joseph was already quite familiar with seer stones and how they worked. In fact, Joseph had discovered at least 2 seer stones, the first in 1822 while digging a well with Willard Chase:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.” (Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15:2 (Summer 1982): 48–68) (emphasis added).

Of this seer stone, one witness reported that “[i]t was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket” (W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365). This seer stone was eventually consecrated on an altar in the Manti Temple in 1888 by Wilford Woodruff.

The source of the second seer stone is uncertain, but in 1841 the Prophet showed it to the Council of the 12 in Nauvoo and told them, Brigham Young reported, “that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness.” The second seer stone was described as in “the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides” (Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, LDS Church archives; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 264).

During the translation process of the 116 pages, the Prophet used not only the Nephite interpreters but also regularly employed at least one of his seer stones placed in the bottom of a hat. Contrary to frequent Church criticism, our Church leaders have hardly tried to conceal this fact as evidenced by the following recent quote:

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign, July 1993, p.61) (emphasis added)

Interestingly enough, using a seer stone in this seemingly odd manner was nothing out of the ordinary for Joseph Smith and practically everyone else at this time. (SeeJoseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?,” Brant A. Gardner) In fact, what seems quite strange to us today was a widely accepted practice, even among the highly religious during the early 19th century. Joseph apparently had a gift to use his seer stones to see things others could not, including discerning property and the location of hidden treasure. Hence, Mr. Josiah Stowell’s interest in Joseph Smith to help him search for hidden Spanish treasure (see JSH 1:56).

Since Joseph openly employed the seer stone in the hat for translation, at one point during the translation of the 116 pages, Martin Harris apparently tested the Prophet’s abilities. After translating for a time each day, the two would often take a break and walk to a nearby river and throw rocks into the river to unwind:

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, ‘Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.’ Martin then confessed that he wished to ‘stop the mouths of fools’ who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.” (Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, January 1988, p.6)

In an apparent reference to at least one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, the Book of Mormon makes reference to “a stone” as distinct from the Nephite interpreters:

23 And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
24 And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
25 I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land. (Alma 37:23-25)

Gazelem is a name given to a servant of God, generally thought to be Joseph Smith. The word appears to have its roots in gaz – a stone, and aleim, a name of God as a revelator, or the interposer in the affairs of men. If this suggestion is correct, its roots admirably agree with its apparent meaning – a seer.

Notice that Alma speaks of a singular “stone” as separate and distinct from the plural Nephite “interpreters,” both of which are to be used for basically the same purpose. The stone, however, was to “shine forth in darkness unto light,” possibly referring to its usage in a hat as was Joseph Smith’s revelatory practice.

While it is not certain how much of the Book of Mormon was eventually translated using the seer stones, it is evident that their usage was typical.

[NOTE: For more information on the Prophet’s seer stones, see Joseph Smith/Seer Stones found in the FAIR Wiki.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Health Care Reform – A Step Towards a Welfare State?

Health care reform is necessary and should be implemented soon. To my knowledge, no one is arguing that reforming the system is essentially a bad thing. Instead much of the controversy lies in how it is reformed. Any reform, however, should be discussed and debated thoroughly by both sides of the aisle since each side touts valid points.

A good portion of the opposition to the current reform has been focused on the non-transparency of the process, and the sudden rush to just “do something.” With a proposed bill of over 1,000 pages, not including the thousands of amendments that will certainly follow, it is imperative that our representatives have sufficient time to know what they are signing into law. They must understand the long-term implications of such a move since it will likely comprise 1/7th of our nation’s economy.

Another reason this must be debated thoroughly is because health care reform will undoubtedly include entitlement programs, where individuals will receive free services simply by having a valid social security number – and possibly those without a social security number. Reversing government entitlement programs is an incredibly difficult task. Recipients eventually feel “entitled” to those free services and ultimately rely thereon for their livelihood instead of being personally responsible – the ‘give a man a fish, or teach a man to fish’ principle comes to mind. Little by little, government entitlements create a “welfare state” where the government assumes the primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.

I am generally opposed to government entitlements since I believe personal welfare is an individual responsibility that should not be shouldered by others. In my opinion, government entitlements tend to harm the individual more than help because labor and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor are blessings from the Lord, and an essential requirement in our eternal progression. I firmly believe that nothing destroys the individuality and freedoms of a man as much as the failure to be self-reliant.

Obviously there are several exceptions to this, for example, individuals who lack the physical or mental capacity to survive without the goodwill of the people. In those cases, entitlements serve a valid and needed purpose. Nevertheless, those who have the means to provide for their own welfare and yet seek a free ride are, in essence, restricting their own freedom and the freedoms of those who pay the price. The following quote by Howard W. Hunter explains:

What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms…

If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through ‘a democratic process’ he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ Both have lost their freedom. Those who ‘have,’ lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who ‘have not,’ lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got ‘something for nothing,’ and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.

Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost." [Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest.” Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966.]

Of late, it seems as though we are losing our freedoms through the democratic process. More and more people are choosing the easy way out instead of properly sacrificing like our predecessors had. As a result, the ‘haves’ continually lose their freedoms by being forced to be charitable, and the ‘have-nots’ become more and more complacent and apathetic.

I truly hope that our elected officials view any reform to our health care system through the lens of self-reliance and the blessings that inevitably will come when one earns their bread by the sweat of their own brow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hispanic Church Growth and Illegal Immigration

An article was recently published at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University describing LDS missionary activities in and around the city of Chicago. [The article can be found here] In particular, the article focused on missionaries called to serve in Spanish-speaking areas. Although there were a few things in which the writer erred, overall it was a fair article.

Of interest to me, however, were the following quotes:

"In Chicago, Hispanics, which account for about a third of the population, make up more than half of converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as more missionaries are reaching out to inner-city populations in Spanish. About a quarter of the 32 congregations on the city’s North Side are Spanish-speaking."
"The number of the Spanish-speaking Mormon congregations in the U.S. has grown by more than 80 percent in the last decade, now up to around 700."

Amazing! Spanish wards have grown by 80% since 1999! Living in Texas, I can see how this is possible. It is inevitable as the stone that is cut out of the mountain continues to roll forth until it fills the whole earth.

The Seer Stone recently discussed Predictions of Globalization of the Church. Part of that globalization must, of necessity, be related somehow to the various cultures and laws of each nation involved. Here in America, there is the ever-growing debate about illegal immigration from Hispanic nations and the effect it can have on our society. My questions are three-fold:

1) How should the Church deal with "illegal" immigrants that desire baptism? How does this coincide with the Church's admonition to be "subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law"?

2) Should the Church be actively concerned about the legal status of its members?

3) Should the members of the Church be concerned about the legal status of the members of their Ward/Branch?