Thursday, May 14, 2015

Joseph Smith Was Not a Uniquely Egregious Sinner

Over the years, I have heard a lot of critics of the LDS Church say that Joseph Smith was a uniquely egregious sinner - that his actions make it obvious he wasn't a prophet of God.  I understand how someone could look at only his weaknesses and reach that last conclusion, but I also understand that calling him a uniquely egregious sinner and, thus, not a prophet generally displays either a lack of understanding of history or, at the very least, a complete rejection of the concept of prophets. 

There is no indication that Joseph sinned more than any other prophet throughout history - or even sinned in uniquely egregious ways. Assuming our ancient scriptures are accurate, just for the sake of comparison, and removing justifications of divine command, there are multiple murderers / death-enablers who are accepted as prophets (Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Paul, etc.); Joshua committed genocide; Samson had incontrovertible proof that Delilah was trying to betray and get him captured (more than once), and he still allowed her to make it happen - either because he loved her or because the sex was so good; Hosea got a woman pregnant who wasn't his wife; Jonah tried to run away from the Lord, openly defying him, and then grieved when people repented; Gandhi was a deeply flawed man, with multiple serious issues; Martin Luther King, Jr. was a serial adulterer; Jesus of Nazareth was killed for blasphemy - and all we have of his life are records that were written explicitly by believers to place him in the position of the [theologically revamped] Messiah when, by all objective, non-believing standards of the day, he simply was another failed Messiah figure; and the list continues. (and, it's important to point out that David never was a prophet - but his "fall with one woman" was the result of arranging the murder of her husband)

I'm not trying to hold up Joseph as a model of perfectly virtuous behavior (since I don't see him that way), but I am saying the standard we (collectively) tend to demand of our prophets and apostles (particularly in the case of Joseph, who can be seen, I believe, more in the role of an Old Testament prophet than any other type) simply is not consistent with history and our own scriptural canon. The majority of exceedingly extraordinary people throughout history have carried baggage on the other side of their "greatness", as well. I don't see the disconnect between who they were and how we tend to view them as their fault (even as I see their actions as their fault); I see that disconnect as our fault, and I include leadership in that statement just as much as general membership - since some leaders have condoned and even encouraged that unrealistic view.

As I've said in other posts here and elsewhere, I don't see how anyone who accepts the Biblical prophets can reject Joseph as a prophet based on his weaknesses and mistakes. I can see how that person can reject him for other reasons, but to say his actions disqualify him . . . I just don't see it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you - i have thought about this regarding prophets recently as well