It has been a very busy spring and summer for me and as a result, I haven’t been able to post anything since April. A few days ago I received a comment from a reader about “The ‘New’ Attack on Joseph” post. They said, “Thanks for your post. I’m interested in hearing more.” So in response to their inquiry, I thought I would write a little more about the subject.
The idea in the first post is that the “new” attack on Joseph Smith, Jr. is being fueled mainly from those involved with the Mormon History Association (MHA), the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA), Sunstone, and Signature Books. The heart of the attack is coming from inside the Restoration Movement. I call it a “new” attack because it is a current day attack, but it doesn’t use new information or sources. The attack is based on many of the same old sources that have been used in attacks on Joseph from the beginning. The information is just being reinterpreted, respun, repackaged, and made to appear new and different. While attacks in the past have focused mainly on the validity of Joseph Smith as a prophet, the “new” attack, using old sources, draws additional conclusions which impugn his personal honor and integrity. The “new” attack is not satisfied to merely conclude he was a false prophet, but viciously concludes he was evil, deceitful, a liar, an adulterer, and a pedophile.
As stated earlier, one of the groups substantially involved in this attack is the JWHA. According to the JWHA history page, this group was formed in September, 1972, by members of the RLDS Church. The founding members included professors at Graceland College (RLDS Church college), editorial staff of the Herald Publishing House (RLDS Church publishing organization), RLDS Church historian, members of the RLDS Church Department of Religious Education, and future president of the RLDS Church. According to Bill Russell, one of the founding members of JWHA, in a presentation given in 2000 at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, many of the founding members of JWHA were heavily involved in liberalizing (Bill Russell’s word) the RLDS Church away from its original beliefs and into the Community of Christ (CofC), which today is nothing more than a mainstream Christian church. Bill Russell stated that this liberalization began in 1958 (which coincides with the year W. Wallace Smith became the president of the RLDS Church) and has continued to the present. To accomplish this task, the liberal founders of JWHA and other liberal leaders systematically began to teach liberal doctrines and to discredit Joseph Smith as a prophet and a man through published articles in the Saints’ Herald, church curriculum, and instruction at Graceland College in the areas of church history and religion. This included questioning the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version, the authority of the church and priesthood, an all male priesthood, the practice of close communion and other doctrines of the church. The First Presidency and higher quorums of the church remained aloof from these discussions to allow deniability if questioned by the membership. The more radical opinions and controversial issues, such as allegations that Joseph was a polygamist, were allowed to be printed in “unofficial” church publications like Courage and The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. Nauvoo, Kingdom on the Mississippi, by Robert Flanders, a founding member of JWHA, portrayed Joseph as less than a moral man and indicated he started the practice of polygamy in the church. The founders of the JWHA definitely had a strong influence in moving the RLDS Church away from its Restoration doctrine and into mainstream Christianity. In part, they accomplished this task by discrediting the character, prophetic calling, and works of Joseph Smith. The JWHA continues to support this position regarding Joseph and the Restoration Movement through its publications, writing achievement awards, and annual meetings. In addition, the annual meetings support liberal social and religious change. Their ideological position is important to remember as we discuss the relationship between the JWHA and the MHA, Sunstone, and Signature Books.
The MHA was founded in 1965 as an affiliate of the American Historical Association and became an independent organization in 1972. According to the history page of the MHA Web site, “MHA was organized to promote understanding, scholarly research, and publication in the field of Mormon History.” There is an obvious connection and association between the MHA and the JWHA. Some presidents of the MHA have also been members and presidents of the JWHA and visa versa. One can apply for membership to both organizations from both the JWHA Web site and the MHA Web site and receive a discount if they do so. Members of both organizations publish in MHA and JWHA publications. Conferences, articles in the Journal of Mormon History, (published by MHA) and writing achievement awards granted in the past by the MHA have, like the JWHA, supported discrediting the character, prophetic calling, and works of Joseph. According to the Journal of Mormon History page of the MHA Web site, “Manuscripts dealing with all aspects of Mormon history are welcome…. First consideration will be given to those which make a strong contribution to knowledge through new interpretations and/or new information” (emphasis added). In addition, MHA conferences and Journal of Mormon History articles have supported reform of Mormonism (including social change) toward mainstream Christianity. So, it seems, the MHA and the JWHA have similar ideological positions about Joseph and the Restoration Movement. Hopefully, this will become even clearer with the information provided below.
The books fueling the “new” attack are many, and the authors come from a Utah LDS background. Some are still members, some are not. Either these books or their authors have received awards from the MHA or the JWHA or both. In addition, many of these authors have written articles published in either the Journal of Mormon History or The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. Their association with the MHA or the JWHA can be verified at the respective Web sites. Books fueling the “new” attack are listed below. I’ve included links to information and reviews about these books so you can briefly see how they attempt to discredit the character, prophetic calling, and works of Joseph Smith.
- Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery.
- Published by Doubleday, 1984.
- MHA 1984 Best Book Award.
- Linda King Newell was president of both MHA and JWHA.
- Valeen Tippetts Avery was president of MHA.
- Review by Luke Wilson.
- Mormon Polygamy: A History, by Richard S. Van Wagoner.
- Published by Signature Books, 1989.
- Richard S. Van Wagoner’s writings have been published by both MHA and JWHA and he has received awards from MHA.
- Reviews by The Arizona Daily Star, by Linda K. Newell in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, by Richard P. Howard in Saints’ Herald.
- Richard P. Howard was a Church Historian for the RLDS Church in the 1970s.
- Richard P. Howard was a founding member of the JWHA.
- In Sacred Loneliness, The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton.
- Published by Signature Books, 1997.
- Best Book Award from JWHA.
- Best Book Award from MHA.
- Review by Carmon Hardy in Journal of Mormon History.
- Todd Compton serves on the Board of Editors for the Journal of Mormon History.
- Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn.
- Published by Signature Books, 1997.
- D. Michael Quinn received several awards from MHA.
- D. Michael Quinn wrote several articles for The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.
- D. Michael Quinn served on the editorial committee of the JWHA.
- Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel.
- Published by Signature Books, 2004.
- Best Book Award from JWHA.
- Best Biography Award from MHA.
- Dan Vogel wrote several articles for The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.
- Nauvoo Polygamy “…but we called it celestial marriage”, by George D. Smith.
- Published by Signature Books, 2008.
- George D. Smith is founder and publisher of Signature Books.
- George D. Smith wrote articles for The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal and Journal of Mormon History.
While the above information is just a cursory look at these books and their authors, it is sufficient to show that the JWHA and MHA are cooperative in their approach against Joseph and fully support the books which are making this “new” attack. It is also interesting to note that most of these books have been published by Signature Books, making it a publishing conduit for the “new” attack. In addition to and intertwined with these three organizations, Sunstone Education Foundation, which publishes Sunstone Magazine, is also involved in supporting the “new” attack.
Sunstone started to sponsor symposiums in 1979 to explore all issues related to Mormonism. Those participating in these discussions are members of JWHA, MHA, and authors of some of the above books. The April, 2009, Midwest Symposium was themed “Examining the Origins of Scripture.” It was held at Graceland University, Independence, MO. It was co-sponsored by the John Whitmer Historical Association, the Community of Christ Seminary, and the Sunstone Education Foundation. CofC presenters included CofC President Stephen Veazey, Richard P. Howard (JWHA), Bill Russell (JWHA), and CofC Apostle Dale Luffman. George D. Smith presented his book, Nauvoo Polygamy “…but we called it celestial marriage.” The August, 2009, Salt Lake Symposium was themed “Zion’s Sisterhood: Celebrating Mormon Women’s Contributions to Church & Culture.” It included participation by CofC apostles, Andrew Bolton and Dale Luffman, as well as Bill Russell, Linda King Newell, and D. Michael Quinn. The Sunstone symposiums support the same liberal social and religious reform issues and the same position about the character, prophetic calling, and works of Joseph Smith as does the JWHA and MHA.
So, what does all of this information point to? It points to a coordinated effort between these organizations to demean the character of Joseph Smith, Jr. But why? If people can be convinced that the vision in the grove didn’t happen, that Joseph lied about his early experiences with God and angels, and that he was an evil person, they will no longer believe in the truth of the Restoration Movement. The liberal leaders of the CofC, including the founders of the JWHA, used this tactic to help move the RLDS Church away from its Restoration distinctives and into mainstream Christianity. It is my opinion that the efforts of the JWHA, the MHA, Sunstone, and Signature Books to demean the character of Joseph Smith are intended to effectuate the same change within the Utah LDS Church.