Brigham Speaks

An Evangelical has begun to record reenactments of some of Brigham Young’s more notorious conference talks. The segments are short and not within context but they make their point effectively; that Brigham Young, as a Prophet and President, said some rather distasteful things from the pulpit at General Conference. These were his spiritual teachings and not just his opinions on issues of the day.

The evangelisitc strategy applied here is to dislodge Mormons from security and comfort of the teachings of Mormon prophets. I have my reservations about the strategy because it does not offer a alternative worldview. It also seems that someone could cherry-pick some quotes from the Old Testament with a reenactment of Moses preaching them in the desert for similar purposes.

I think most Mormons are at least vaguely aware of Brigham’s fiery rhetoric. They would not choose to follow his teachings if he were prophet today, but he’s not prophet today, so they don’t have to. I think if there is any traction to be found in this strategy it is to be found in his teachings on the Adam/God theory; which subsequent Mormon leaders explicitly declared to be false despite having found their way into Temple ceremonies.

The videos are handsomely produced and the actor does a fine job of delivering the sermons. See for yourself:

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38 thoughts on “Brigham Speaks

  1. Growing up Mormon and reasonably engaged with Mormonism (we had lots of Church books from assorted eras around, I went to seminary and institute, I paid attention in Sunday School and Priesthood meetings, etc.), I certainly knew about all of this. That said, I do think you can be an active Mormon and be oblivious to it. Since these videos are pretty much in the vein of “presented without comment,” I have to imagine that the target audience is the new convert or peripherally engaged Mormon.

  2. I actually hate the way the actor reads it. He doesn’t read it with the punch the rhetoric needs. When you have that many wives, you have to be practical and fervent. You need to put the fear of God into those who might be tempted to give them comfort when you are away. And if if they don’t really believe in God enough, or feel that the spirit is calling them to rescue the damsel in distress. . . the fear of the javelin.

  3. The case of Brigham Young tells you a lot about how older Mormons saw the prophet. Brigham Young was not called the “prophet” like Joseph was. He said and did a lot of things, but people never really saw him the same way as they did Joseph. I don’t think there was a cult of personality surrounding Brigham back then. He was a visionary political actor with his own religious theories, not a visionary prophet.

  4. I would interested to know if the first anti-miscegenation quote was during the time the LDS church was courting political ties with the South.

  5. BTW- I think this is a silly way to undermine the belief of the church itself. All the leadership have to do is teach more of the teachings of Brigham Young where he advises people not to include any man or his character in their faith. Brigham Young provides the answer to Brigham Young. As Brigham was quick to point out, the Bible is filled with rascally and harsh people chosen by God.

    This move is easy to make and actually strengthens the church. They develop a narrative that minimizes the impact of these ideas. The reason anti-Mormons get worked up about these things is they have a weird view of how Mormons see the prophets–probably because the Mormonism taught to the world in the last 25-30 years does not show much of the nuance in Mormonism.

  6. If Mormonism doesn;t have a real, bona fide living prophet of God who teaches authorized revealed truths, what’s the point of Mormonism?

    You can nuance all you want, but then Mormonism is selling the world a bill of goods.

  7. If Mormonism doesn;t have a real, bona fide living prophet of God who teaches authorized revealed truths, what’s the point of Mormonism?

    That’s easy. The only authorized priesthood. You don’t hear much more than this now as it is.

  8. Right, the priesthood is bigger than the leadership.

    And the leadership does believe that the Savior is in charge, you will hear it all the time. But it follows more of a pattern of collective revelation. The lock-step unanimity on most important policy things is an important feature of the way the church works on the highest levels today.

    The theory seems to be that the Spirit works to bring people together to one mind. The exemplary case of this is the revelation regarding blacks and the priesthood. That experience itself is legendary– the revelation was said to have come to all the twelve together after many years of pondering. It cut through deep doctrinal and cultural debates. I have to believe that this sort of experience is the model for most major church decisions after that.

    When I was in the same ward as David B. Haight he would talk about the revelation all of the time. During the last years of his life he didn’t go on assignments and would attend our ward about every other Sunday. . . he would speak for at least 10-15 minutes every time he attended. (The other was an elaborate vision he had of the life of Jesus when he was in a coma for several days.) The guy was like a sunbeam of love.

    You can see a shift in McConkie’s thinking after the blacks and the priesthood revelation as well– it seems to have been a seminal moment.

  9. (For the uninitiated, David B. Haight was an LDS apostle who was called in 1976. . . i.e. shortly before the 1978 revelation giving the priesthood to those of African descent.)

  10. That’s easy. The only authorized priesthood. You don’t hear much more than this now as it is.

    I realize that you can nuance basically everything but the only authorized priesthood and still have a reason for Mormonism to exist.

    But.

    That’s not what the message has been for the last 180+ years.

  11. The exemplary case of this is the revelation regarding blacks and the priesthood. That experience itself is legendary– the revelation was said to have come to all the twelve together after many years of pondering. It cut through deep doctrinal and cultural debates. I have to believe that this sort of experience is the model for most major church decisions after that.

    I think that’s a creative way of characterizing how the Church leadership decided to issue the Manifesto.

  12. The Manifesto was bit different.

    Being in the law, its clear there is a big difference between the reasons for the decision, and the reasons given for the decision. That said, the given reasons may not be the “real” ones (whatever those are), but they are important to understand.

  13. Brigham Young followed the mold of many public speakers of that day in giving sermons that were blunt, fiery, and full of pepper. He himself admitted that he had to turn up the heat on his rhetoric – just to keep the audience from nodding off to sleep and engaged.

    His audience at the time seems to have also indulgently realized the “bark is worse than his bite” nature of Brigham Young’s words. Brigham spoke words in favor of several excesses that both he and his followers would have been appalled at – had they actually been carried out word for word. But in most cases – they never were.

    (For the record – have not watched the vids yet.)

  14. Brigham Young is like the crazy uncle prophet to most Mormon’s I know. His comments were the most bombastic, but as you state Tim, much easier to dismiss because of time, place etc.

    If you want shocking, do a vid with a recent prophet – like Bensen. Much more schocking in my view (although I guess all of his was outside of conference) and much harder to make rationalizations.

  15. Young and his people lived in some extraordinary times. I’m not always stoked about the words of James Henley Thornwell, or course it is easier to dismiss a professor as mistaken than a prophet. I’m not sure proof texts of sermons is any more effective than proof texting the Bible. An entire sermon with a comment about the historical context would make it harder to dismiss outright.

    I enjoyed Turner’s Biography.

  16. SOUND BITES:::: Does this group do full speaches, or just out of context sound bites?

    After reading the whole of the talks these sound bites came from I find that they are not so schockig as they seem when presented alone.

    It was this kind of behavior from those trying to convince me the LDS Church was wrong that helped me to keep studying.

  17. I’d be the first to say that Martin Luther said some very stupid and terrible things.

    But I’d also say he said a lot of wonderful things. Christ centered things, that gave great comfort and assurance to real sinners in need.

    I’m happy to hear Christ centered, gospel centered things…no matter whose mouth they came out of.

  18. I’m happy to hear Christ centered, gospel centered things…no matter whose mouth they came out of.

    Even Brigham Young, no doubt.;)

  19. Of course! Even Brigham Young.

    Here’s a gem from Luther:

    “Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!”

  20. No, we don’t.

    Luther was just another sinner who was immersed in self-focused religion. But God awakened a renewed faith in him and gave him a right understanding of the pure gospel and the complete freedom that Christ has won for all of us, on the Cross.
    And then, I guess, God gave him the guts to stand up to the world power of the day and say, ‘You guys have gone off the rails…’ . “I cannot, and will not recant…here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

    And then they kicked him out and tried to kill him. That’s another story.

  21. We don’t take what Luther said about the Jews with any seriousness, at all. But are very much embarrassed by it. Other Lutherans, not all by any means, in other times certainly may have used what Luther said to justify their own prejudices and hate of the Jews.

    Some think he had something akin to dementia in his old age. He was also a medieval German and held some of the prejudices of that time and place. Not at all to excuse it.

  22. We don’t take what Luther said about the Jews with any seriousness, at all.

    Right, Mormons don’t take this stuff Brigham said seriously anymore. But wasn’t it taken extremely seriously at one point. But my guess is that there were a lot more Jewish and Catholic deaths at the hands of Lutherans based on what he said than there were Mormon javelin attacks.

    But as Luther said– whether his millions of adherents took it seriously or not–it’s all good if you’ve been properly baptized, right?

  23. I don’t know if Luther said that (in that way)…but I do know that he did say that “nothing that we do…or do not do…affects the way God loves us in Christ Jesus.

    He did say this, “The good you do won’t save you, and the evil you do won’t condemn you…because of Christ.”

  24. Steve,

    I am not making a run at Luther. I think he had a good message, and I can see the beauty in the the sort of freedom Luther preached. He is just the best example of how Protestants will ignore the brutal realities of history when they embrace this message.

    You may appreciate that Luther’s position is precisely that of Brigham Young. Brigham Young was putting into political effect the Gospel according to his interpretation of Joseph Smith;s mandate. Luther was putting into political effect the Gospel according to his interpretation of St. Paul’s. Mormons probably view Brigham Young much like you view Luther.

  25. Thanks, Jared.

    Many do ignore the brutal realities of history. But we see them as all being tied up in His-story. Real sinners, doing all sorts of things, good and bad, but ALL being used by the Lord for His good purpose.

  26. Luther rallied and organized those who believed in his take on St. Paul’s view of Christianity.

    Brigham rallied and organized those who believed in his take on Joseph Smith’s view of Christianity.

  27. The EV’s who make these videos of Brigham Young use quotes out of context for shock value. As do all the “ministries” that work to tear down the LDS religion. Unfortunately not all LDS will do the research to find out the true context.

    I read CD Host’s blog and what he wrote about Adam-God. Every LDS member needs to read it. I came to the same conclusion but from a different method. The Adam-God theory is true. What people forget is that we were not there to hear it all (that goes for
    any and all history) and not everything was written down, not
    everything was written down correctly, some information is
    second and third hand, some is from recollection after many
    years have passed, and the speaker was not always clear in what
    they were saying. Brigham Young did not make himself clear. I
    have listened to many people speak and some were not good at
    conveying what they meant or what their message was. BY did that with Adam -God, among other things, and our leaders today are not always clear. Shoot, I am not very good at getting across what I mean many times. BY was fiery, so what. A lot of Preachers of different religions were the same as BY during his day, and there are many today with that fiery, rhetorical style. Look at some on television.
    My mother was raised Baptist and every day she feared she was going to Hell because her Preacher was always using the “hell, fire and brimstone” type of preaching.
    Read CD Host’s article and Adam-God will make sense.

  28. I agree JR,

    The Hellenist particularly Platonic influence on the Mormon creation narrative is undeniable.

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