Monday, October 26, 2009

Reed Smoot Hearings - Day 1: Testimony of Joseph F. Smith, part 1

There is not the room, nor do I have the time or patience, to copy the entire testimony verbatim of any witness into this blog, let alone that of Joseph F. Smith.  With that in mind, I will summarize, quote testimony, as I find it important, and comment on what I include.  I'm not sure how this will all work out, so let's see what happens.  For this portion, I'll put in a summary of the first day until the recess at noon.  One note, I use "Mr. Smith" in my commentary, that is not meant to be disrespectful at all.  I follow only the custom of the committee.  It would probably be better to title him with "President" instead, but in most cases I did not.

March 2, 1904.  Joseph F. Smith is called to the stand to testify.  He is a witness for the protestants, thus Mr. Tayler will do the direct examination. 

The first thing of notice is that Mr. Smith refuses to be sworn, but instead prefers to 'affirm.'  "I prefer to affirm, if you please."

Mr. Smith is a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, and has lived there since 1848.  He is currently the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and has been a member of the church all his life.

Mr. Tayler.  What official position do you now hold in the church?
Mr. Smith.  I am now the president of the church.
Mr. Tayler.  Is there any other description of your title than mere president?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; not that I know of.
Mr. Tayler.  Are you prophet, seer, and revelator?
Mr. Smith.  I am so sustained and upheld by my people.
Mr. Tayler.  Do you get that title by reason of being president or by reason of having been an apostle?
Mr. Smith.  By reason of being president.
Mr. Tayler.  Are not all of the apostles also prophets, seers, and revelators?
Mr. Smith.  They are sustained as such at our conferences.

Commentary:  I don't want to sound too critical here, but when I first read this I was hoping for a stronger answer than, "I am so sustained."  How about, "Yes I am" as an answer without qualification?  I'll leave this comment alone for now.

After naming all of his predecessors, Mr. Tayler directs him to businesses in which he has an interest.  The following are mentioned:  ZCMI (president), State Bank of Utah (president), Zion Savings Bank and Trust Company, Utah Sugar Company (president), Consolidated Wagon and Machine Company (president), Utah Light and Power Company (directory and president), Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railroad Company (director and president), Salt Air Beach Company (president), Idaho Sugar Company (directory and president), Inland Crystal Salt Company (president), Salt Lake Dramatic Association (director and president), Salt Lake Knitting Company (director and president), Union Pacific Railway Company (director), Bullion, Beck, and Champion Mining Company (vice-president), the Young Men's Mutal Improvement Association (editor), the Juvenile Instructor (editor), and he has no business relation with the Deseret News.

Commentary:  Wow, that's a few.  How does he find time to breathe?  He must be extremely busy with both church and business meetings.

He next goes through a very brief history of the church, what the standard works are (Book of Mormon, Bible-KJV, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), and what he thinks of church writers such as James E. Talmage, Orson Pratt, and B.H. Roberts.

For Orson Pratt, Mr. Smith states the following as far as if he was authoritative in writing or not:  "He was in some things, and in some things he was not."  As far as if writings from B.H. Roberts were "approved by the Mormon Hierarchy," Mr. Smith states:  "I do not think so."

Commentary:  Mr. Tayler wants to get a feel for how the church feels about writers and their commentaries about church doctrine.  Essentially what has been said here is that anything outside of the standard works is just a commentary and is the responsibility of the writer.  It is not accepted as doctrinal nor binding upon the church as to understanding or interpretation.  He tries to make this point even when the church itself owns the copyright, published the book, and in the introduction it states it was published under authority of the church authorities.

Moving on, the Senator question him on how vacancies in the Twelve are filled and how the next president of the church is chosen.

Senator McComas.  I should like to ask one question.  You say that the councilors are appointed by the president of the church.  How are the apostles selected?
Mr. Smith.  In the first place they were chosen by revelation.  The council of the apostles have had a voice ever since in the selection of their successors.
Senator McComas.  When vacancies occurred thereafter, by what body were the vacancies in the twelve apostles filled?
Mr. Smith.  Perhaps I may say in this way: Chosen by the body, the twelve themselves, by and with the consent and approval of the first presidency.
Senator Hoar.  Was there a revelation in regard to each of them?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; not in regard to each of them.  Do you mean in the beginning?
Senator Hoar.  I understand you to say that the original twelve apostles were selected by revelation?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Senator Hoar.  Through Joseph Smith?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; that is right.
Senator Hoar.  Is there any revelation in regard to the subsequent ones?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; it has been the choice of the body.
Senator McComas.  Then the apostles are perpetuated in succession by their own act and the approval of the first presidency?
Mr. Smith.  That is right.

Senator Bailey then wishes to know if the apostles could nominate someone to their group over the objections of the first president.  Yes, they can, "they have the power if they chose to do it," but "the twelve would be very reluctant to insist upon the election of a man to whom the president was opposed," and in fact he states that "I do not think they would."

Next up is how the president of the church is chosen or appointed.
Mr. Smith.  I was nominated by the twelve apostles and submitted to the whole church and sustained by the whole church ... the senior apostle, through custom of the church since the death of Joseph Smith, has been recognized on the death of the president as the legitimate successor to the president.
Senator Bailey.  It is a question of succession rather than of election?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Senator Bailey.  Has that the force of law?
Mr. Smith.  Still he is elected, just the same.
Senator Bailey.  Has that the force of law or has it merely the persuasion of custom?
Mr. Smith.  Merely a custom.  There is no law in relation to it.  It does not of necessity follow that the senior apostle would be or should be chosen as the president of the church.
Senator Bailey.  And if they did not elect him it would do no violence to the church or the organization?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; not in the least.
Mr. Tayler.  Has anyone of the first presidents after Joseph Smith been appointed to his place in consequence of revelation?
Mr. Smith.  I was not present on the selection or choice of President Young to succeed Joseph Smith, but I have been led to understand by the history of the church that it was by the spirit of revelation that he was chosen to be president of the church.
Mr. Tayler.  Now, was any successor of his in like manner chosen?
Mr. Smith.  We believe that there is inspiration in all those things.
Mr. Tayler.  And you believe therefore that all of the first presidents from Joseph Smith down have been chosen through inspiration or revelation?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  That there has been actual divine interposition in that choice?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; I believe that.

Commentary:  Lots of church procedure is covered there.  First off, there doesn't seem to be any specific revelations, per se, for individual Apostle replacements.  There were initially, and I think a few more in the 1880's, but since then it has always been a matter of the current quorum choosing a new member on its own.  For the president of the church, it is merely the custom that the senior apostle is the successor.  He does state, rather strongly, that all of these things happen by way of inspiration or revelation.

F.Y.I.:  A good chunk of this testimony on succession in the Twelve and succession in the presidency is visible from the actual committee book in a picture posted here October 23, 2009.  Here's a link to the photo:  Committee Testimony.

Mr. Tayler then moves on to the specific authority held by the first presidents of the church.  He asks what authority they have, and Mr. Smith answers:  "My understanding is that they are endowed with the authority of the holy priesthood."  The committee chairman, Senator Burrows, wants to know what that means exactly, to which Mr. Smith responds with the following definition:

"The holy priesthood, which gives them authority to preach the gospel and administer in all the ordinances of the gospel by authority from God, the gospel being a gospel of repentance of sin, faith in God and in Jesus Christ, his Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, by one holding authority from God to baptize and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.  This is the authority that is exercised and held by the president of the church, as we believe."

The next subject talked about is revelation.  Mr. Tayler quotes D&C 68:4, and asks Mr. Smith if he believes this passage:  "4.  And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation."

Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; I believe that doctrine, and it does not apply only to me, but it applies to every elder in the church with equal force.
Mr. Tayler.  With equal force?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  That applies only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost?
Mr. Smith.  That is correct.
Mr. Tayler.  Do you understand that that is intended to cover the case of inspiration or revelation?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  Is every elder of the church, according to the belief and practice of your organization, likely to receive revelations directly from God?
Mr. Smith.  When he is inspired by the Holy Ghost; yes.
Mr. Tayler.  I am coming to the subject of revelation in a moment.  But does anybody, except the head of the church, have what you call revelations binding upon the church?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; everybody is entitled to revelations.
Mr. Tayler.  Has any person, except a first president of the church, ever received a revelation which was proclaimed and became binding upon the church?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  No?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir.  The revelations for the government and guidance of the church come only through the head.  But every elder of the church and every member of the church is entitled to the spirit of revelation.
Mr. Tayler.  I suppose -
Senator Overman.  Do you mean entitled from God or through the presidency?
Mr. Smith.  From God.
Senator Overman.  To receive it direct from God?
Mr. Smith.  From God.
Senator Overman.  Has any revelation ever been received from God to the members or elders of the church except through the president?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.  Let me say that we hold that every member of the church receives a witness of the spirit of God of the truth of the doctrine that he embraces and he receives it because of the testimony of the spirit to him, which is the spirit of revelation.
Mr. Tayler.  Then any elder in the church may receive a revelation?
Mr. Smith.  For his own guidance.
Mr. Tayler.  He may come into direct contact with God in the form of a revelation to him for his own guidance?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.

Commentary:  This is straight Mormon doctrine as understood today.  Revelation for the church as a whole comes through the head, or the prophet of the church.  However, any individual is entitled to receive revelation for their own questions/problems personally from God.  I find it interesting, as well, to note that Mr. Smith states that every member receives a witness from the Spirit of the truths/doctrines they embrace which comes by the spirit of revelation.

Mr. Smith.  I will say this, Mr. Chairman, that no revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon the members of the church until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them.
Mr. Worthington.  What do you mean by being presented to the church?
Mr. Smith.  Presented in conference.
Mr. Tayler.  Do you mean by that that the church in conference may say to you, Joseph F. Smith, the first president of the church, "We deny that God has told you to tell us this?"
Mr. Smith.  They can say that if they choose.
Mr. Tayler.  They can say it?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; they can.  And it is not binding upon them as members of the church until they accept it.
Mr. Tayler.  Until they accept it?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.

Commentary:  That last comment strkes right at the heart of one of the main positions of the protestants; namely, that the church authorities are supreme in their power and that church members will always obey them.  Here, the president of the church has just stated that any member may choose not to obey a rule or law or revelation from the head of the church, and until they accepts it, it is not binding upon them.

Mr. Tayler.  Were the revelations to Joseph Smith, Jr., all submitted to the people?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Senator Overman.  Does it require a majority to accept or must it be the unanimous voice?
Mr. Smith.  A majority.  Of course only those who accept would be considered as in good standing in the church.
Mr. Tayler.  Exactly.  Has any revelation made by God to the first president of the church and presented by him to the church ever been rejected?
Mr. Smith.  I do not know that it has; not that I know of.

Commentary:  Majority vote is all that is needed ... interesting.  And, obviously, any who reject the majority view are not considered in good standing.  They didn't state it that way exactly, but that is what it means; unless, of course, the majority rejects a revelation and the minority agrees to it.  What then?

Continuing on with this same line of questioning, Senator Hoar is asking if J.F.S. has inspiration about this knowledge of people rejecting revelations presented to them.

Senator Hoar.  That then is not a matter in which you have an inspired knowledge?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir.
The Chairman.  But you do not know of any instance where the revelation so imparted to the church has been rejected?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; not by the whole church.  I know if instances in which large numbers of members of the church have rejected the revelation, but not the body of the church.
Senator Overman.  What became of those people who rejected it?
Mr. Smith.  Sir?
Senator Overman.  What became of the people who rejected the divine revelation; were they unchurched?
Mr. Smith.  They unchurched themselves.
Senator Overman.  Oh, yes.  They were outside the pale of the church then?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
The Chairman.  They unchurched themselves by not believing?
Mr. Smith.  By not accepting.

Commentary:  Again, if you do not accept revelation from the head of the church, you essentially "unchurch" yourself.  I think that word is funny:  unchurch.  I laugh when I read that, I don't know why.

Mr. Tayler having heard this discussion, wants in on some of the action and asks some specific questions on what would happen if a revelation is presented by President Smith and some people fail to accept it, would they automatically be unchurched?  To clarify his position on this, Mr. Smith gives the following explanation:

"Our people are given the largest possible latitude for their convictions, and if a man rejects a message that I may give to him but is still moral and believes in the main principles of the gospel and desires to continue in his membership in the church, he is permitted to remain and he is not unchurched.  It is only those who on rejecting a revelation rebel against the church and withdraw from the church at their own volition."

This statement seems to be a bit contradictory to the committee, specifically voiced so by Senator Hoar.  They don't understand how a revelation from God can be rejected; revelations ... from God ... should always be followed is their thinking.  Mr. Smith reiterates some of the thoughts already given to the committee again.  He talks about individual free agency, and that "so long as they don't come in conflict with the standard principles of the church," they can remain in the church and are entitled to their own opinion and views.  To support this statement he says of the principle of plural marriage "many thousands of [Saints] never received it or believed it; but they were not cut off from the church."  Senator Dubois jumps all over this analogy and wants an explanation.

Senator Dubois.  You misunderstand me.  I do not undertake to say that they practiced it.  I accept your statement on that point.  But do you mean to say that any member of the Mormon Church in the past or at the present time say openly that he does not believe in the principle of plural marriage?
Mr. Smith.  I know that there are hundreds, of my own knowledge, who say they never did believe in it and never did receive it, and they are members of the church in good fellowship.  Only the other day I heard a man, prominent among us, a man of wealth, too, say that he had received all the principles of Mormonism except plural marriage, and that he never had received it and could not see it.  I myself heard him say it within the last ten days.

This stopped Senator Dubois' questions, but it didn't really answer Senator Hoar's question on the contradictory nature of a divine revelation being rejected.  This leads to an interesting piece of testimony.

Senator Hoar.  Is the doctrine of the inspiration of the head of the church and revelation given to him one of the fundamental or non-fundamental doctrines of Mormonism?
Mr. Smith.  The principle of revelation is a fundamental principle to the church.
Senator Hoar.  I speak of the revelations given to the head of the church.  Is that a fundamental doctrine of Mormonism?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Senator Hoar.  Does or does not a person who does not believe that a revelation given through the head of the church comes from God reject a fundamental principle of Mormonism?
Mr. Smith.  He does; always if the revelation is a divine revelation from God.
Senator Hoar.  It always is, is it not?  It comes through the head of the church?
Mr. Smith.  When it is divine, it always is; when it is divine, most decidedly.
The Chairman.  I do not quite understand that - "when it is divine."  You have revelations, have you not?
Mr. Smith.  I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations.  I never said I had a revelation except so far as God has shown me that so-called Mormonism is God's divine truth; that is all.
The Chairman.  You say that was shown to you by God?
Mr. Smith.  By inspiration.
The Chairman.  How by inspiration; does it come in the shape of a vision?
Mr. Smith.  "The things of God knoweth no man but the spirit of God;" and I cannot tell you any more than that I received that knowledge and that testimony by the spirit of God.
Mr. Tayler.  You do not mean that you reached it by any process of reasoning or by any other method by which you reach other conclusions in your mind, do you?
Mr. Smith.  Well, I have reached principles; that is, I have been confirmed in my acceptance and knowledge of principles that have been revealed to me, shown to me, on which I was ignorant before, by reason and fact.

Commentary:  This is significant testimony.  First off, Mr. Smith states that revelation and the receipt of revelation is a fundamental doctrine of the Mormon Church.  To put it in a shorter format:  Without revelation, this church doesn't exist.  Secondly, Mr. Smith states that as president and prophet of the church, he has received no revelations as acting head of the church, for the entire church.  He was the president of the church from 1901-1918.  It is 1904, at the time this testimony was given.  Within the 3 years he has been president of the church, he hasn't received any revelations.  He has received inspiration on points of the gospel and he has reasoned things out in his mind; however, no general church-wide revelation has come from Joseph F. Smith that needed to be presented in conference assembled for a sustaining vote of the church.  I have seen this tiny piece of testimony quoted by anti-Mormons to prove that Mormons just don't have "it" anymore.  I find it funny when he quotes I Cor. 2:11 to the Chairman.  He immediately stopped that specific line of questioning.

After the death of Hyrum Mack Smith, eldest son of Joseph F. Smith and Edna Lambson, on January 23, 1918 (from a ruptured appendix), at the age of 45, Joseph F. Smith was reportedly grief-stricken.  On October 3, 1918, Joseph F. Smith reported have a "Vision of the Dead.  On October 31, 1918, this was presented to the church and General Authorities and initially placed in the Pearl of Great Price.  It took until 1978, when President Kimball had the vision moved and placed in the D&C (Section 138) and re-canonized again.  It can then be said that Joseph F. Smith did receive a revelation that was presented to conference assembled and voted on.  This doesn't count all of the non-canonized statements of the First Presidency made during Joseph F. Smith's presidency:  The Origin of Man (1909) and The Father and the Son (1916) being two of the most prominent.

At this point Senator Bailey speaks up and wants to know why this type of testimony is being gone into.  This is purely a religious discussion and doesn't appear on the surface to have anything to do with Senator Smoot's right to a seat in the Senate.

Commentary:  It is noteworthy that the Chairman of the committee was the one that directed the specific questions about revelation at Mr. Smith.  The others just wanted a general feel of the subject when the Chairman jumped in the middle of it and wanted a complete explanation of revelation; who gets it; how does it come; have you had any; how do you know; etc., etc., etc.  This type of questioning by the Chairman doesn't stop here; throughout the entire committee hearing he is one of the most biased committee members, if not the most, in the room (even Senator Dubois, Mormon hater, isn't as biased it seems).  He asks all of the "dirty laundry" type of questions and demands answers.

Even after that little talk by Senator Bailey, Mr. Tayler picks right up with the same type of questions again.  He asks how Joseph Smith, Jr., received revelations; angels, spirit of God, how?

Mr. Tayler.  Mr. Smith, in what different ways did Joseph Smith, Jr., receive revelations?
Mr. Smith.  I do not know, sir; I was not there.
Mr. Tayler.  Do you place any faith at all in the account of Joseph Smith, Jr., as to how he received those revelations?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; I do.
Mr. Tayler.  How does he say he got them?
Mr. Smith.  He does not say.
Mr. Tayler.  He does not say?
Mr. Smith.  Only by the spirit of God.
Mr. Tayler.  Only by the spirit of God?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  Did Joseph Smith ever say that God or an angel appeared to him in fact?
Mr. Smith.  He did.
Mr. Tayler.  That is what I asked you a moment ago.
Mr. Smith.  He did.
Mr. Tayler.  Did Joseph Smith contend that always there was a visible appearance of the Almighty or of an angel?
Mr. Smith.  No, sir; he did not.
Mr. Tayler.  How otherwise did he claim to receive revelations?
Mr. Smith.  By the spirit of the Lord.
Mr. Tayler.  And in that way, such revelations as you have received, you have had them?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.

Commentary:  That was a softball question, but it was needed.  He readily hit that one out of the park.

Mr. Tayler.  The revelation concerning plural marriages was received by Joseph Smith?
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir; it was.
Mr. Tayler.  And was published by him, was it not -
Mr. Smith.  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler.  To some members of the church?
Mr. Smith.  It was.
Commentary:  Mr. Tayler wanted to establish the fact that the revelation on plural marriage was divine; was received by Joseph Smith, Jr.; was published by him; and given to only "some" members of the church.

The Chairman interrupts the questioning to break for lunch.
This is the end of the first half of Day #1 of the testimony of Joseph F. Smith.  The committee took a break from 11:45 AM until 2:00 PM, and then began again.  Part 2 of Day #1 will follow shortly.

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