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Are LDS Church leaders the most evil men who ever lived?

Are LDS Church leaders the most evil men who ever lived?  Don't affidavits and many witnesses prove Joseph Smth had a bad reputation?

W. John Walsh
Jeff Lindsay

by W. John Walsh

Critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made a hobby (and often a living) at attacking the character of individual Church leaders, especially but not limited to, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.   According to the critics, Church leaders are:

"murderers", "wife-stealers", "child-molesters", "adulterers", "racists", "occultists", "drunkards", "homosexuals", "horse thieves", "liars", "abortionists", "moonmen believers", "Adam-God worshipers", and "guilty of every imaginable evil"

If one were to accept the accusations of the critics at face value, then someone might conclude that Church leaders were some of the most evil men who ever lived.   Now, anyone accepting this supposition is left in a quandary.  Even most critics freely admit that Latter-day Saints are generally very good, moral, and upright people.  Therefore, it would seem rather strange for us, being very good people, to revere these "evil" men.  In fact, this inconsistency should make people very cautious abut believing these accusations.  Don't assume something is true just because someone said it or wrote it.

If someone has related to you some supposedly unsavory things about LDS Church leaders, then I would encourage you to follow the following admonition of the Savior:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (The Holy Bible, Matthew 7:15-18)

If LDS Church leaders were truly evil men or false prophets, then one would expect the Church to be bearing bad fruit.  Instead, our beliefs and practices testify that our leaders, the ones who gave us these beliefs and practices, have been some of the noblest and greatest men who have ever lived upon the earth.  While we do not claim they are infallible (See Are Prophets Infallible?), they sincerely try to follow and emulate their master, the Lord Jesus Christ, and only seek to do his will. 

It should be noted that in the early Christian Church, the enemies of God also told many false, distorted, and slanderous stories about Jesus and his early apostles. 

by Jeff Lindsay

"We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable til then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in wonderful ways."

- William Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, Jr., quoted in Deseret Evening News, Jan. 20, 1894, p. 11.

There is no question that many people did not like Joseph Smith. He was hated enough that many joined in a conspiracy to arrest him on false charges and murder him while in the Carthage Jail. With such enemies, it should not be a surprise to find not only bullets but also a few unkind words directed at Joseph. To some critics, the fact that he had enemies is all it takes to condemn him, forgetting that Christ's Church in New Testament times was also spoken against everywhere and had numerous hateful critics who persecuted the saints and even killed the Lord.

The issue, though, is whether there is real substance to the many slanderous remarks that people have made about Joseph. Some early anti-Mormons worked hard to produce a large number of affidavits about Joseph Smith's character. Philastrus Hurlbut, twice excommunicated from the Church for immorality, became a bitter enemy. He collaborated with E. D. Howe, who published Mormonism Unvailed (sic) in 1834, which has been drawn upon endlessly by successive generations of anti-Mormon authors. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, in the article "Anti-Mormon Publications,"

Hurlbut was hired by an anti-Mormon committee to find those who would attest to Smith's dishonesty. He "collected" affidavits from seventy-two contemporaries who professed to know Joseph Smith and were willing to speak against him. Mormonism Unvailed attempted to discredit Joseph Smith and his family by assembling these affidavits and nine letters written by Ezra Booth, also an apostate from the Church. These documents allege that the Smiths were money diggers and irresponsible people. Howe advanced the theory that Sidney Rigdon obtained a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding, rewrote it into the Book of Mormon, and then convinced Joseph Smith to tell the public that he had translated the book from plates received from an angel. This theory served as an alternative to Joseph Smith's account until the Spaulding Manuscript was discovered in 1884 and was found to be unrelated to the Book of Mormon.

Hurlbut's affidavits against Joseph Smith show surprising consistency of wording and style, as if Hurlbut either wrote them or directly influenced the content. These aren't reliable documents by any means (see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314; also Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3 (1991): 52-80.)

In fact, the Howe-Hurlbut affidavits can be shown to be untrustworthy on issues of testable fact, as Donald L. Enders has shown in a ground-breaking article, "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genessee," in Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1993), 213-225, as cited in FARMS Update No. 90, "Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?", Sept. 1993. Enders examined land and tax records, farm account books, soil surveys, surveys of historic buildings, agricultural experts, and other sources, to examine and evaluate the Smith farm and their agricultural practices and other economic activities. The evidence shows that the Smiths worked extremely hard, clearing tons of rock and about 6,000 trees to begin their farm. Just the fence around it required cutting six or seven thousand 10-foot rails of wood. The Smiths worked in numerous areas to earn money for the farm, while also producing nearly a ton of maple sugar each year. 1830 Manchester Township tax records appraise the family's holdings at the average level per acre for farms in the area, and at a value above all but one of the ten local farms owned by families who signed affidavits claiming the Smith's were "lazy," "indolent" people who appeared to "live without work." The affidavits are based on hostility, not an honest appraisal of Joseph Smith.

Marvin S. Hill in Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. 30 (Fall 1990), p. 73, makes an important point:

If the Smiths were so reprehensible, why did the Presbyterian Church to which many of these witnesses belonged admit Lucy and her children to membership in 1824? There was nothing negative said about their character when they chose to leave the Church in 1828. William Smith was probably right when he said that his family did not learn that they were bad folks until after the Book of Mormon appeared.

Many people who knew Joseph Smith and his family spoke of their good character and diligence. An example of one non-LDS person's favorable views of Joseph comes from a former neighbor, Orlando Saunders, who was interviewed in 1881. He said of the Smith family: "They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died." Saunders told Frederic G. Mather that the Smiths "were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. . . . He was always a gentleman when about my place." (Quotes are given in R.L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 309.)

Most of the people who knew Joseph best loved him and testified of his honor and integrity. Hundreds knew Joseph well, including some of my own ancestors who have left their testimonies that they had known a real prophet, a man of God, and a good, honest person named Joseph Smith.

Copyright by Jeff Lindsay

(See The Prophet Joseph Smith home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)

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