Four More Things You Didn’t Know About Joseph Smith
PBS documentary writer Jane Barnes’ compelling memoir FALLING IN LOVE WITH JOSEPH SMITH: My Search for the Real Prophet (Tarcher/Penguin hardcover; on-sale Aug 16) comes out this week! To mark the occasion, author Jane Barnes has compiled a list of four more things you didn’t know about Joseph Smith. (Check out Barnes’ list of the first four things HERE.)
5.) Today’s Mormon Church is not the church of Joseph Smith. Joseph’s church was a wild and woolly institution, constantly adapting to new situations and to the prophet’s revelatory twists and turns. That’s far from the case today, where the living prophets have had fewer and fewer revelations, and the church’s authority is entirely top down. Once the outlaws among American religions, the Mormons are now the most tried and true. The one area in which today’s Mormon Church resembles Joseph’s—and which will no doubt come into play in the upcoming election—is that it does not separate church and state in matters of its social legislation.
6.) Joseph believed that God created man out of already existing material and not ex nihilo as the Christians claim. Accordingly, men and women were always developing even after death; through celestial or “plural” marriage, their potential allowed them to become gods. These unorthodox beliefs have given rise to questions about whether or not the Mormons are Christians. According to a Pew survey: “Mormons are nearly unanimous in the view that Mormonism is a Christian religion, with 97% expressing this point of view. By contrast, a November 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that a third of non-Mormons in the U.S. (32%) say the Mormon faith is not a Christian religion; 51% of non-Mormons think that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 17% are unsure.”
7.) The Methodists and Baptists were new Protestant denominations that developed out of the same reform movement in the Church of England as the Mormons. Both Methodists and Baptists have had significantly larger numbers than the Mormons from their founding until today. Yet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, which most outsiders can’t read, compel and scare us more than other churches with similar beginnings.
8.) There have been about 130 groups that have broken off from Joseph’s Church. Most have not lasted more than a decade. For the most part, the splinter groups reflect or repeat the conflict over polygamy. Apart from today’s mainstream church, there are the polygamous Mormon Fundamentalists; the nonpolygamous Utah sects; and the RLDS founded around Emma and, her son, Joseph III, maintaining that Joseph, the prophet, never practiced polygamy. In my book, I show how one group of Mormon Fundamentalists have worked over generations to make Joseph’s plural marriage a disciplined and loving learning ground for gods-in-progress.