June 14, 2009

People & Perfection

In an earlier post, a reader saw my criticisms of Joseph Smith, Jr. and asked if that means that I expect a prophet of God to be perfect. Of course the answer is no, but it raises an even more interesting question about just how far from perfection a man of God is allowed to stray.

Symonds Ryder (1792-1870) was an early convert to the Church and apparently thought that a prophet of God should be absolutely infallible. After Joseph Smith had misspelled Mr. Ryder's name in a "revelation", he became convinced that Smith could not have written it through the power of God. He eventually left the Church.

Most reasonable people think that even if Smith were a prophet, such a minor mistake could be overlooked as mere human error. After all, Smith was not born a prophet, right? And even if he did more for the salvation of mankind than anyone other than Christ Himself (see D&C 135:3), that doesn't mean he was perfect, right?

There are several mistakes and behaviors of Smith and the early Church leaders that could be criticized. I don't think each of them is necessarily evidence of their fraudulence, but we must each draw our own boundaries for where human error goes too far, indicating that the individual is nothing more than human.

For example, John Taylor reported that while they were in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith and the rest ordered and drank wine to lift their spirits. I can't really blame them for that. I probably would have done the same thing had I been imprisoned. While it contradicts the general expectation of an LDS prophet, I don't think that fact by itself should convince anyone that Smith was a fraud. Similarly, most members don't know that Smith also unloaded a six-shooter on the men who were coming to kill him (source). Again, while this doesn't sound like a "lamb going to the slaughter" (D&C 135:4), I would certainly have done the same thing. It was self-defense.

If I wanted to find any imperfection of Joseph Smith, Jr. I could also stress how his attempt at banking was a complete failure (source). In reality, though, I don't think that's too big of a mistake/imperfection to prove that he was a fraud. Notice that I don't mention any of these things in the outline of my concerns.

There are certain things Smith did, however, that go way beyond human imperfection in my mind. I feel that they not only were things a prophet of God would not do, but are clear evidence that Smith was nothing more than a mere man. I do not feel it necessary to address these here again, as they are clearly laid out in the outline of my concerns.

So each of us must carefully decide what limits we place on perfection. Where must it not waiver, and where is it given room to fluctuate? If it does waiver, how far can it go until we will take the hint?


Richard Packham said...

At the risk of sounding like an example of Godwin's Law, I will say that when I hear people defend Joseph Smith's character flaws (lying, womanizing, fraud, drinking) by claiming that "Nobody's perfect - he was only human," I am reminded of comments I sometimes heard from old Germans when I was a student in Germany: "Well, nobody's perfect, and Hitler made some mistakes. But he meant well, and he did a lot of good - he brought us out of the Depression, he got us the '36 Olympic Games, he built the Autobahn...."

I call it the "Hitler Built The Autobahn" defense.

Mormons need to re-read D&C 50:26-28, which requires the head of the church to be purified and cleansed from all sin. And D&C 111:11 commands Joseph to be "without sin."

Mormon leaders have preached that if the head of the church were to try to "lead the church astray," he would be "brought down." (D&C OD-1) Isn't that what happened to Joseph Smith?

The Mudras said...

How about D&C 1:31? God says he cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance....