Thursday, July 7, 2016

Evils of religion: Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Last week, the Mormon Church officially acknowledged that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, having had as many as 40 wives. Though they stopped short of calling him a pederast (as I did in a previous column), they did admit that one of his wives was only 14 years old.
True, it was probably the worst kept secret in the history of modern religions; still, it was a significant admission. Perhaps they feel enough time has passed that no one cares anymore about the harmless little peccadilloes of a man who’s been dead for a century and a half, particularly if they just keep insisting ‘He was a prophet!’ But how do you call a man like that a "saint"?
If disillusioned by this announcement, perhaps a modern-day Mormon could simply focus on Brigham Young instead of Joseph Smith? Umm, not so much. Young had at least 55 wives - including a 15-year-old and three 16-year-olds - and 57 kids. A reasonable person might be excused for calling him, also, a pedophile, or at least a statutory rapist. Yet those were some of his lesser crimes.
(Interestingly, visitors to the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake will find a painting by William Major of Brigham Young, one young woman and six children. The caption reads“Brigham Young and his family.” Which family? If the Mormons wanted to tell the truth about their history, shouldn’t that read ‘Brigham Young and a small part of his enormouspolygamous family’?)
After Smith’s death in 1844, Young led many of the Mormon faithful to the Great Salt Lake Basin in Utah. By 1852 they felt secure enough to stop lying about their immoral lifestyle and admit that they promoted polygamy. In 1855 and 1856 a drought convinced Young that God was mad, that He didn’t consider Utah’s inhabitants righteous enough, and Young called for a Reformation. (Watch out for any church that needs a 'Reformation'!) Of course, it never occurred to him to blame his own philandering for God's supposed wrath. Instead, Young proclaimed that the “unrighteous” needed to be driven out of the state. In their zeal, Mormons also drove from the state most federal officials, including a judge and a U.S. Marshal. President Buchanan responded by declaring war on Utah and preparing to send in the army.
On Monday, September 1, 1857, Young met with Indian chiefs from Southern Utah and encouraged the Indians to harass the pioneers using the southern route, encouraging them to steal their cattle. The Fancher wagon train, with 140 men, women, and children heading from Arkansas to California was passing through Salt Lake City while that meeting was going on, yet they were able to re-provision and leave town without incident. The following Sunday, from his pulpit in Salt Lake, Young declared Utah no longer bound by the laws of the United States. By that time, the Fancher wagon train had stopped again at Cedar City, Utah. This time, Mormon merchants were told by church officials they would be excommunicated if they sold anything to the pioneers.
Though he later claimed he’d acted without direction from Brigham Young, Isaac Haight, the president of the Cedar City stake (church) and highest church official in southern Utah, gathered the Danites (also variously called the Iron County Brigade and the Nauvoo Legion… basically, every able-bodied Mormon man and boy) and told them it was "the will of all in authority" to "kill part or all" of the Fancher party. Like Young, he enlisted the Indians in his plan.
The wagon train left town empty-handed. When they reached Mountain Meadows Pass they were attacked by some Indians and Mormons disguised as Indians. They circled their wagons and fought off the attacks for four days. The Indians left but the Mormons persisted. On September 11, John D. Lee came forward under a white flag and offered terms: He claimed he had negotiated a truce to call off the Indians, but the hungry settlers must give the Indians all their arms, wagons, and cattle. In return, the Mormons would escort them safely back to Cedar City. They agreed. The weapons were confiscated and the first two wagons were loaded with the guns and the youngest children and headed back to town. Once those two wagons were out of sight, the Mormons slaughtered the rest of the defenseless group, nearly 120 men, women and children. Lee was the only one convicted of any wrongdoing, and that took nearly 20 years. According to Lee’s account, when he reported it to Brigham Young, Young’s first concern was, not the murder of innocents by supposed Christians, but the reputation of the LDS church. However, the next day, he said he was at peace with what happened. According to Lee, Young said,
"I asked the Lord if it was all right for the deed to be done, to take away the vision of the deed from my mind, and the Lord did so, and I feel first rate.”
In 1858, Brigham Young received a presidential pardon from Buchanan. If Young was innocent, why did he need a pardon?
In 1910 author Josiah Francis Gibbs, who had lived through those turbulent years in Utah wrote an account of early Mormon history. Besides the Mountain Meadows Massacre he listed:
  • "The blood atonement murder of William R Parrish and his son Beason for apostasy at Springville in 1856, ordered by Young himself;
  • "The murder of Rosmos Anderson by the leading priesthood of the Parowan stake of Zion in 1856, because Cedar City Bishop Philip Klingensmith coveted Anderson’s buxom Scandinavian stepdaughter as his plural wife, whom Anderson also wanted as his plural and had already committed adultery with; (eeew!)
  • "The castration of Tom Lewis at Manti, Utah, in 1856 because Bishop Warren Snow was lecherously ambitious to polygamously marry the girl with whom Lewis was keeping company;
  • "The inexpressibly cowardly murder of William Hatton at Fillmore, 1856 by a man who could be named and who was the agent of the prophets, seers, and revelators at Salt Lake City, the handsome widow of Hatton soon after being added to the celestial harem of the unspeakable Prophet Heber C. Kimball;
  • "The cold-blooded murder and robbery in the spring of 1857, on Brigham Young’s orders, of the Aiken party who were transporting $25,000 east from San Francisco;
  • "The cowardly assassination of the two wounded that escaped the Aiken party massacre, by Orrin Porter Rockwell and Wild Bill Hickman, who under pretense of conducting them from Utah by the southern route to California shot them in the back at a point some four or five miles south of Nephi;
  • "The midnight murder later on of King Robinson, Newton Brassfield and others who became obnoxious to the Mormon leaders."
If you are a sincere Mormon, likely you discount the negative stories about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as the mud-slinging of apostates. But even your Church acknowledges that the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Aiken Party Massacre really happened.
If you tend to downplay these accounts, as Catholics do their sordid past, saying ‘Well, that’s ancient history. It doesn’t change my belief in my Church.’ you should think seriously about changing your stance. Here’s why:
The Bible teaches a principle referred to as “community responsibility.” When an unsolved murder happened, for example, the entire city nearest where the victim was found was held accountable and had to offer a sacrifice for forgiveness.(Deuteronomy 21:1-9) The principle didn’t end when Christianity began. After Jesus’ death, Peter told a crowd of Jews in Jerusalem – most of whom had had nothing directly to do with Jesus’ murder: “He…was betrayed, and YOU, by the hands of lawless men …put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) Those Jews could have said, ‘We had nothing to do with it!’ They didn’t. They recognized that, if they wanted God's favor, they had to disassociate themselves from the killers, and they became Christians.
A man who continues to call himself a Catholic must accept responsibility for everything Catholicism has done, from the Crusades to the modern day ‘Whack-a-Mole’ game of hiding pedophile priests. A woman who continues to call herself a Protestant must accept responsibility for everything the Protestants have done, from drowning anabaptists during the Reformation to the South African apartheid of the twentieth century. And anyone who continues to call himself LDS must accept responsibility for the sins of Joseph Smith, the blasphemous teachings of Brigham Young, and for the Mountain Meadows and Aiken Party Massacres.

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