Jesus Christ chose a holy man, a righteous man, to lead the Restoration of the fulness of His gospel. He chose Joseph Smith.
“A righteous man” – it’s an interesting phrase. What con-notates “Righteous”? What makes a man wicked?
Traditionally, members are praised as “Righteous” when they follow the prophet, but Joseph Smith Jr. did not follow the religious leaders of his day. Instead, he opposed them.
The good spoken of Joseph Smith came slowly; the evil speaking began immediately.
This is not historically accurate. Although Joseph recounts gunfire at him, or men surrounding the Smith home to take the plates, or himself fighting off half a dozen men while carrying a 60 lbs object, no one in Palmyra in mentioned as having injuries. The individuals who try and get the plates are mentioned by name in the Ensign: Samuel Lawrence, Willard Chase, Lumen Walters, among others, but none of these mention any of their group sustaining injuries as Joseph Smith describes.
Even the instance of the Preacher rejecting Joseph’s vision in 1820 does not match any preacher or similar discussion in that time period such that apologists have had to look for visiting preachers from other areas as a possibility that Joseph actually had such a conversation.
I put forward another hypothesis: “The evil speaking came forward as Joseph Smith broke the law, broke trust with those around him, and generally was disorderly”
For example, Joseph Smith Jr., having obtained the plates, had Willard Chase make a box for those plates to go in. Joseph had signed a treasure hunting agreement, saying he would share any treasure dug up with the rest of the group that Willard was a member in. Flaunting that he had gold plates and was not sharing in front of the treasure hunting group he was breaking an agreement with lead to the group looking for the plates. It is just after Joseph asks for that box to be built that the group meets at Samuel Lawrence’s house to try and obtain the plates.
Further, when Joseph’s Kirtland Safety Society fails and he is unable to make payments on the money he loaned, the individuals come to collect the land in Joseph Smith’s name. This is what any bank or other lender would do if one defaulted on a mortgage or secured loan today and was normal then. Joseph put people in houses on land that he used as loan collateral. Saints were not mercilessly driven out of Kirtland, but homes were seized as payment on loans Joseph did not pay.
Joseph’s polygamy was a concern for William Law; who was in the First Presidency of the Church, but William Law did not take action until Joseph married the Lawerence sisters. You see, the Lawrence sisters were orphans who had a sizable inheritance. Joseph had already squandered the Partridge sister’s money when he married them polygamously (That is to say, in a non-legal arrangement). William Law’s concern for the future of the Lawrence girls drove him to publish the Nauvoo Expositor; the press that when Joseph had destroyed, he was rightfully sent to prison over until the case should be evaluated (If a mayor ordered a newspaper in his down burned down and all the servers destroyed, he would be rightfully detained until a court trial could be arranged. His stay in jail would be just and correct. Joseph Smith Jr.’s situation was no different.
These are only three examples of how Joseph’s actions came before the evil speaking of his name.
“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
“While the pure in heart, … the wise, … and the virtuous, shall seek … blessings constantly from under thy hand.”7
This is an easy prophesy. Every human could make it about themselves. If they go on to do something great, that action will always cause others who have different beliefs or thoughts to scorn or negatively comment. If one passes into obscurity, the prophesy would never be known either, and so the observers of prophesy would seem to see that prophets always named individuals of great importance before they became great.
Further, Joseph did not record this interaction until it was already being fulfilled. No record of Moroni’s visit stating these words exists from 1824. As such, it’s hardly a prophesy.
Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, “ask of God.”9 Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.
Let us use his own definition for what “Righteous man” means:
If Joseph did not see God the Father and the son in 1820; he is not a righteous man. We can discuss how only after another boy claimed to see them as separate individuals did Joseph make this claim, or how Joseph cannot even remember how old he is when he had this experience (14,15,16, 17 and 19 are all ages Joseph Smith claims for this vision). We can discuss the different versions of this vision. Perhaps we should just say that God, who demands two or more witnesses according to scripture, did not give more witnesses of this account and let’s move on to point two:
Joseph Smith brought forth sacred scripture. In the Book of Abraham, we can see a clear forgery, a funery text from 500 B.C. (Contemporary with Lehi and Nephi, for goodness sake) being called written by Abraham’s own hand. With the Kinderhook plates, we see a clear attempt at deception. With Adamic tongue we see gibberish passed off as the perfect language. We see anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Why then should we give him credit for his Sacred Scripture as an indication of righteousness? Further he snuck behind his wife’s back to marry 33-40 women, with many of these relationships not allowing for consent, and then blaming the rape-nature of these relationships on God. Is that the low-bar for righteousness?
And now for perhaps the most dastardly claim in the whole piece. That one cannot intellectually judge Joseph Smith, but one must spiritually do so. Why does god fear unbiased testing so much? Why is He all powerful until one introduces a confidence interval, or statistical certainty? Did god give us logical brains just to discard them? Why must the spiritual make no logical sense?
Why call a philandering liar a “Righteous man”? Why call forgeries “Sacred Scripture”? Why use a rock from a well, when divine implements were at hand? Why spend generations having individuals carve stories on plates not to be read?
It’s not that I cannot suspend disbelief, it’s that such levels of contrast between logic and spiritual knowledge should not go unchallenged if we are to call ourselves “Reasonable humans”. I once met a woman who insisted that Jesus appeared to her and told her to go to Africa, though an elephant on a picture. He also insisted that she give cigarettes to children. Should I judge her without my logical mind, and rely only upon the spiritual.
If we are to call Joseph Smith a righteous man, that measure should be a standard one any man could be judged by and called righteous. If opposing authority of his day was righteous, so to are we who question the brethren of the LDS church. If producing scripture that can only be regarded as such via spiritual minds is the standard, then why not follow Chris Nemelka over the individuals giving these talks, who have not produced a word of scripture in their lives? If extra-marrital affairs and extra-legal marriages are righteous, why do we not call the current LDS church wicked for not doing so?
This is a talk in sophistry and deception, painting a man whom the modern church would excommunicate without much thought as “righteous” simply because the church depends upon him for its truth claims.