Whitmer’s Compromise

I believe it was CS Lewis who came up with a Christian apologetic argument which has come to be known as “Lord, Liar or Lunatic.”  The basic idea is that you can’t consider Jesus to be a nice man with some benign teachings.  If you actually look at what he was saying you have to consider him to be God, a liar or a complete lunatic.  Jesus doesn’t leave a safe option for those who wish to identify with him and his teachings but not have them transform their lives. (the “escape” clause that you can’t trust the Gospels doesn’t help.  If you can’t trust the Gospels for the things you don’t like that were attributed to Jesus, you can’t trust them for the things you do like).

There’s a similar choice to be made with Joseph Smith.  True prophet of God or false prophet.  I recently read a pamphlet by David Whitmer which strives to carve a third option. It’s called “An Address to All Believers“.  I highly recommend you read it, if for nothing more than its historical perspective.

David Whitmer was one of the 3 witnesses to the Book of Mormon.  In this pamphlet he strongly reasserts his testimony that the golden plates were real and that Joseph Smith translated them using a seer stone. Then using the Bible and his own personal experience lays out when and how Joseph Smith became a false prophet.

In a nutshell, Whitmer explains that when Joseph Smith used his seer stone he was offering true revelations (and translations). Then when Sydney Rigdon joined the church, Smith no longer used the seer stone but instead used Rigdon as his inspiration for new doctrine and practices. Using the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Whitmer explains how these revelations are false. He goes after the office of high priest as tenaciously as he goes after polygamy.

One of the things I really appreciated about the pamphlet was its readability.  I’ve read so many things concerning Mormonism that are desperately (and often poorly) trying to mimic the King James Bible or are written to match the General Conference speaking style. It was nice to actually read something that isn’t intentionally trying to be difficult to follow.

As I’ve stated many times before, the doctrine and theology presented in the Book of Mormon seems pretty orthodox to me.  In some cases it states some doctrines in orthodoxy more clearly than the Bible does.  You have a long way to go from the Book of Mormon to current LDS theology (if you’re able to define it).  If you’re compelled by Whitmer’s testimony of the Book of Mormon, I think this pamphlet will give you a lot to consider.

As a side note, It’s my understanding that the Missouri “extermination order” came about partly due to Danite persecution of Whitmer and others. Can someone confirm or deny that?

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10 thoughts on “Whitmer’s Compromise

  1. I’d recommend Chapter 19 of Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” biography of Joseph that treats this very episode. Apparently there was trouble in Missouri with disaffection with Joseph and the Church that started in Kirtland with the financial collapse of Joseph’s town-building scheme there spreading to the Missouri Church. There was a misunderstanding over land purchases and many of the local saints were accusing leaders like Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, William Phelps, and John Whitmer of land speculation along with various Word of Wisdom infractions. Phelps and Whitmer threatened to leave if forbidden to sell their lands. The Council removed all four from office.

    Oliver Cowdery’s accusations against Joseph of adultery over the matter of Fannie Alger came out at this time and Oliver was tried by Church council for false insinuation against Joseph. He was also charged with selling his lands contrary to revelations governing the economic order of the time. Oliver was also suspected by local saints of drumming up business by urging Mormon enemies to bring lawsuits for debts. Cowdery gave a heated and legalistic defense of his “rights” to dispose of his own property and eventually left/was expelled from the Church.

    Soon after, the Danites emerged in Missouri under the leadership of Sampson Avard. We have no conclusive historical record of how involved Joseph Smith himself was with the group – since it was quite secretive and all recordings of Joseph possibly approving the group’s actions come from George Robinson – a Danite sympathizer (and he mostly portrays Sidney Rigdon as being central in the events rather than Joseph anyway).

    At this point the “Far West defectors” (Phelps, Cowdery, and the Whitmers) were still being stealing, counterfeiting, and bringing up “vexatious lawsuits” to collect debts and question land titles. There was talk among the Danites of killing the men.

    None of the First Presidency of the Church attended the organizational meeting of the Danites. But soon after according to Reed Peck (a Mormon drawn unwittingly into the Danites who left the Church later that year), Sidney Rigdon gave a rather inflammatory speech about “salt losing its savor and being trodden underfoot.” He spoke out against a “set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency… and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of such a nuisance.” Some accounts hint that Rigdon hinted at lynching. Reed Peck’s account describes Joseph Smith being in the background at the sermon and giving only a short sermon himself where Peck thinks that Joseph sanctioned Rigdon’s sermon, but also adding “I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully.”

    Both Rigdon and Smith later denied backing violent measures when accused of it.

    In any event, soon after the sermon, about eighty members in Far West signed an ultimatum demanding the departure of the “four dissenters.” Fearing for their lives, the dissenters fled. The ultimatum wasn’t a specifically Danite operation. But it is most likely that many Danites were among the signatories.

    I don’t have time to summarize much more than that. You’ll have to read Bushman’s book for more. But basically, Danite activity increased from that point, and it most certainly contributed to the intensification of (already existing) hostilities between the Mormons and their neighbors. It appears that the Danites under Avard got out of control and Joseph was unable to fully restrain them. Some even talk that Avard was trying to wrest control of the Church from Joseph.

    I can’t say whether how the dissenters (including Whitmer) were handled contributed to the “Missouri War” that soon followed. But it seems likely that such accounts would have been used as rallying cries by the Missourians who drove the Mormons out.

  2. To answer the central point of the post though,

    I’ve never liked the logic of the argument:

    Book of Mormon true = Joseph true prophet = modern Church is true.

    It’s just bad logic and has multiple points at which it could fall apart.

  3. “As I’ve stated many times before, the doctrine and theology presented in the Book of Mormon seems pretty orthodox to me. ”

    I think even most LDS are guilty of forgetting that the Book of Mormon presents what the ancient Nephites believed, not what Joseph necessarily believed. It purports to be their record, not Joseph’s. Therefore, it ought not to exactly reflect the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith. It wasn’t his book, it wasn’t his particular take on things.

    That said, Joseph clearly believed that what the BoM taught was in fact good and true.

  4. Well, no, because there were no ancient Nephites. Funny how the Book of Mormon mostly addressed issues that were of concern to 19th-century frontier protestants…

  5. Concerning David Whitmer,

    “One of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. One of six original members of the church. President of the church in Missouri, 1834. Addressed throughout the D&C. A high priest in Far West, Missouri, 1838. Hiram Page wrote to James Strang in early 1846 indicating that David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Hiram Page received a tract about his succession claims and “read it with joy and gladness,” and “all the witnesses of the Book of Mormon living in that region received the news with gladness,” and addressed James Strang “as a prophet of God to tell them what to do.” In a second letter from April 1847, they also invited James Strang to come to Missouri and get the “church records, and manuscript revelations.”” (see http://www.strangite.org/Famous.htm)

    Oliver Cowdery was the only Book of Mormon Witness who did not follow James J. Strang, but his father, William Cowdery, did.
    (ibid)

    Tim wrote” …It’s my understanding that the Missouri “extermination order” came about partly due to Danite persecution of Whitmer and others. Can someone confirm or deny that?”

    I have not read anything about any persecution of any of the Whitmers who were in the church (John, Jacob or David) by the Danites. More than likely, Tim was referring to Oliver Cowdery.

    I have a friend who moved to a place in Northern Missouri just North of Adam-ondi-Ahman. He is a devout Baptist and attended one of the many Baptist Churches located in that area. He told me how most all of the people in his church are very anti-Mormon. Now he drives almost an hour to go to another Baptist Church located in Cameron, Missouri just to get away from the “bigots”.

    Anti-Mormonism is alive and well in Davis and Caldwell counties. Especially in Davis county in the Adam-ondi-Ahman area. All those who I have talked to who are anti-Mormon in that area tell me the reason why think in the way they do is because the Mormons came in and tried to take over the area, saying that God gave them the right to the land. This belief has been handed down to them from generation to generation. It is a very clannish area where most are related to one another, or attend the same church.

    The Baptist and Methodist churches were already established in the Adam-ondi-Ahman area before the Mormons arrived. I know where there is a granite marker located about four miles from Tower Hill where a Baptist church once stood. The granite marker states that the church was built in 1833, which was before the Mormons moved to that area. The Baptists and Methodists were instrumental in getting the Mormons evicted from Missouri.

    People have a right and obligation to protect their families. The Danites were formed for that purpose. In my opnion, the Mormons were partly at fault for the troubles in Missouri, but for the governor of the state at that time to issue a extermination proclamation was rather excessive.

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