6. Changing Doctrine Over Time
In one of his more regrettable statements, Hugh Nibley said that one of the hallmarks of Mormon truth is that it has never changed over time:
"The gospel as the Mormons know it sprang full grown from the words of Joseph Smith. It has never been worked over or touched up in any way, and is free of revisions and alterations. Joseph Smith took the same elements that have proven so recalcitrant and so hopelessly conflicting in the hands of the churchmen and threw them together, with an awful lot of other stuff, to follow Brodie, into a single wildly chaotic mess. And lo and behold, everything fell into line of its own accord; all the haphazard elements in the bewildering heap fitted together perfectly to form a doctrine so commanding that not even a hint of rhetorical paradox is needed to support it, and no 'Gregorian compromise' with a pleasure-loving world has been necessary to assure its vigorous growth." (Hugh Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History)
The facts, however, show otherwise.
Brigham Young clearly and repeatedly taught that Adam is our God. He claimed that Adam is the father of our spirits as well as the father of Jesus Christ.
"How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me - namely that Adam is our Father and God . . . Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was created expressly for him. He brought one of his wives with him. Who is he? He is Michael . . . He was the first man on the earth, and its framer and maker. He with the help of his brethren brought it into existence. Then he said: 'I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle, or a dwelling place as mine has' and where is the mystery?" (Brigham Young, Deseret News, June 18, 1873)
In a discourse delivered April 9, 1852, Brigham Young stated:
"When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family . . . I could tell you much more about this; but were I to tell you the whole truth, blasphemy would be nothing to it, in the estimation of the superstitious and over-righteous of mankind. However, I have told you the truth as far as I have gone.... Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, pp. 50-51)
Heber C. Kimball, first counselor to Brigham Young, declared that:
"There is but one God that pertains to this people, and he is the God that pertains to this earth--the first man. That first man sent his own Son to redeem the world . . . " (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, p. 1)
In a 10-page letter written to B.Y.U. associate professor Eugene England on Feb. 19, 1981, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie makes the following admission:
"Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This [i.e., Brigham Young's teaching on Adam], however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel." (p. 6 of McConkie's letter)
This despite earlier claims by church leaders to the contrary. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith, who became the 10th President of the church, claimed concerning the source of the Adam-God theory in the church's own Journal of Discourses, that:
"...in all probability the sermon was erroneously transcribed". (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 96)
Yet Brigham Young pronounced:
In an interview with The New Yorker on January 21, 2002 President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say about Brigham's doctrine:
Early church prophets clearly taught that God was once a man like us.
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens. That is the great secret . . . It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know . . . that he was once a man like us . . . Here, then, is eternal life - to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves . . . the same as all Gods have done before you . . . " ("King Follett Discourse," Journal of Discourses 6:3-4, also in Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342-345)
"He [God] is our Father - the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted being." (Journal of Discourses 7:333)
Joseph Fielding Smith:
"God is an exalted man. Some people are troubled over the statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith . . . that our Father in heaven at one time passed through a life and death and is an exalted man . . . " (Doctrines of Salvation 1:10)
However, modern prophets are now backpedaling on this doctrine. For example, Gordon B. Hinckley has done so, despite Joseph Smith claiming that:
" . . . it is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know . . . that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345)
From a San Francisco Chronicle interview with President Hinckley in April, 1997:
Blacks and the Priesthood
Blacks were not allowed to hold the Priesthood or receive exaltation until the policy was changed on 9/30/1978. Does that mean blacks living after that date can receive exaltation while those prior to that date cannot?
Not many Mormons know that in the early days of the church, the Law of Adoption was practiced to seal living men to other men. Through this ordinance, a man could have any number of men sealed to himself as his sons for eternity. According to Gordon Irving, who worked for the Historical Department of the church:
"No consensus exists with regard to the date when the first adoptions were performed . . . It is certainly possible, perhaps probable, that Joseph Smith did initiate certain trusted leaders into the adoptionary order as early as 1842." (Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1974, p. 295)
Apparently the relative ages of the "father" and "son" were not factors in determining who should be sealed to whom:
"The father may be either younger or older than the son, but in any case assumes the character of guardian, with full control of the labor and estate of the adopted son. Many young men give themselves over to the leaders as 'eternal sons,' in the hope of sharing the honor of their adopted parents." (History of Utah, p. 361)
It seems the Law of Adoption was even believed to be necessary for salvation, as recorded in Wilford Woodruff's journal:
"Many other interesting & important items were presented by President Young much to our edifycation. Meeting was dismissed & met again at 2 oclok & was addressed in a vary edifying manner by O Pratt & treated upon the same principles spoken off by Br Young. Among his remarks He said that as all the ordinances of the gospel Administered by the world since the Aposticy of the Church was illegal, in like manner was the marriage Cerimony illegal and all the world who had been begotten through the illegal marriage were Bastards not sons & Hence they had to enter into the law of adoption & be adopted into the Priesthood in order to become sons & legal heirs of salvation." (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Vol. 3, August 15, 1847, p. 260)
The Law of Adoption ran into problems though, fueled by jealousy and contention among the men:
"Difficulties began when it became apparent that adoption gave one a special status and that not all the adopted enjoyed the same status . . .
Eventually church leaders saw fit to discontinue the practice. On April 8, 1894 President Wilford Woodruff announced in the Millennial Star:
"I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed . . . Revelations were given to us in the St. George Temple, which President Young presented to the Church of God. Changes were made there, and we still have more changes to make . . . We have felt, as President Taylor said, that we have got to have more revelation concerning sealing under the law of adoption. Well, what are these changes? One of them is the principle of adoption.
Polygamy was practiced sporadically by prophets such as Abraham and Jacob in the old testament. It made a comeback in the early days of the LDS church and has since gone away again. The church has tried to distance itself from polygamy in recent years by, for example, changing all the quotes in the Brigham Young lesson manual from "wives" to "wife" and removing all mention of Joseph F. Smith's many plural wives and divorces from his lesson manual.
Speaking in Tongues
Early Mormon history is replete with examples of church members speaking in tongues. It was a doctrinally accepted gift of the Spirit back then, although Joseph occasionally warned of people being misled by a false spirit. For example, here is an incident involving both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young speaking in tongues, as told from each of their perspectives:
"About the 8th of November I received a visit from Elders Joseph Young, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball of Mendon, Monroe county, New York. They spent four or five days at Kirtland, during which we had many interesting moments. At one of our interviews, Brother Brigham Young and John P. Greene spoke in tongues, which was the first time I had heard this gift among the brethren; others also spoke, and I [Joseph Smith] received the gift myself." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 295-297, November 1832)
The gift of tongues was not exclusive to church leaders. In fact, there are numerous accounts of church members employing the same. For example:
"The Holy Ghost was with us in more power during the eight months previous to April 6, 1830, than ever at any time thereafter. Almost everyone who was baptized received the Holy Ghost in power, some prophesying, some speaking in tongues, the heavens were opened to some and all the signs which Christ promised should follow the believers were with us abundantly." (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 33, 1887)
Members of the LDS church no longer speak in tongues today. People would be shocked and probably outraged if such an outbreak occurred during an LDS meeting. The gift of tongues has instead been replaced by a more mundane interpretation, for example, the belief that Mormon missionaries are blessed by the Spirit to learn foreign languages quickly as they teach the gospel in other lands.
There is no mention of temple endowments in ancient scripture resembling what is done today in the Mormon church. The endowment has even changed repeatedly in modern times. For example, the endowment given in the Kirtland Temple lacked the Masonic elements later added at the Nauvoo temple. Significant changes to the endowment have occurred as recently as 1990. If it came from God, why wasn't it done "right" the first time?
Originally, Joseph established through revelation the United Order of Enoch:
"Behold, thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast unto me, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken, and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church." (Book of Commandments, chapter xliv, verse 26)
Each member consecrated everything to the church, and was given back certain property "sufficient for himself and family". Joseph began the experiment in Thompson, but it failed after Leman Copley and Ezra Thayer renounced their offering of land there. In October 1831, he tried to establish the Kirtland Order, primed by a $10,000 loan from Charles Holmes which apparently was never repaid. This also failed, and on April 10, 1834 the Kirtland council dissolved the Order. The concept was also tried in Missouri , including a command by Joseph that unless converts there joined the Order they would be denied membership in the church. With the closing of the storehouse, the Missouri Order likewise collapsed. (History of the Church, Vol. I, pp. 365-7n., 298; also Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1 (January 1833), p. 121)
Since most copies of the Book of Commandments had been burned by this point, it was easy for Joseph to drastically revise the revelation on the United Order when it was republished in the enlarged Doctrine and Covenants in 1835. The Lord no longer demanded total consecration of property, but only that members donate the surplus over and above living expenses. In reprinting the first 12 issues of the Evening and Morning Star, Joseph revised most of the descriptions of the original Order and commanded his missionaries to destroy the notion abroad that the church had ever been a common-stock concern.
Joseph made one final attempt to launch a greatly revised consecration program in Far West, Missouri in July 1838. Under threat by Sidney Rigdon that failure to comply would result in retribution by the Danites, the Saints agreed to again consecrate their property to the church. However, in practice it became clear that the Saints were not going to repeat their earlier mistakes in freely giving everything to the church. As a result, Joseph quickly modified the decree by ordering the Saints to lease their property to the church "without consideration or interest" from 10-99 years. Before this could be carried out, however, it collapsed at the end of the year when the Mormons were driven out of the state. Thereafter, Joseph was content to let the United Order be translated to the plane of abstract ideals, where it was destined to remain. The failure of the United Order concept was blamed on the unrighteousness of the Saints, rather than a lack of wisdom on the part of Joseph. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 140-142, 220-221)
Word of Wisdom
The Word of Wisdom was given through "revelation" on February 27, 1833. It specifically forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks, and allows for the use of wine only at communion and meat only in winter (D&C 89). Does this mean God didn't think it was important for His people to receive the benefits from this revelation until modern times? For example, Noah became drunk:
"20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
Paul counseled Timothy to drink wine:
"23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." (1 Timothy 5:23)
Interestingly, Joseph himself never seemed to pay much heed to the revelation. For example, he recorded:
"We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine." (January 1836, History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 369)
Joseph's lack of discretion in following the Word of Wisdom was apparently a cause of embarrassment for the church. Consider this account:
"It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whisky that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom. I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey." (Millennial Star, Vol. 21, page 283)
When this was reprinted in the History of the Church, it read:
"It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whisky that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom. I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done." (History of the Church, Vol. 5, page 450)
According to a journal entry by Oliver Huntington:
"Robert Thompson was a faithful, just clerk for Joseph Smith the Prophet in Nauvoo, and had been in his office steady near or quite two years. Joseph said to brother Thompson one day, 'Robert I want you to go and get on a bust, go and get drunk and have a good spree. If you don't you will die.' Robert did not do it. He was a very pious exemplary man and never guilty of such an impropriety as he thought that to be. In less than two weeks he was dead and buried." (See Vol. III, p. 166 of the typewritten transcript in the Utah State Historical Society Library)
Joseph continued to disregard this revelation up until the night he was murdered at Carthage:
"The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail . . . Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor . . . " (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 616)
Some may argue that the wine was intended for the sacrament, but John Taylor clarified that this was not the case:
"Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent to revive us." (History of the Church, vol. 7, p. 101)
J. Cooper Johnson stated that LDS prophets are men that are bound to make mistakes from time to time:
"There is much more in the Bible to illustrate my point. This should be sufficient, however, to demonstrate that these men of God (latter-day as well as ancient-day) are not to be held to a standard that God never intended. These men of God will disagree from time to time. They make mistakes. They have their own opinions on things. God has not revealed every detail about Himself or His gospel to the apostles and prophets. We should not expect absolute agreement on issues where there has been no canonized revelation from God. These men of God continue to learn throughout their lives. They were and are taught just as Isaiah proclaimed, "precept upon precept . . . line upon line, here a little, and there a little." (J. Cooper Johnson)