Thursday, July 7, 2016

Evils of religion: Land speculation, Danites, and the Missouri Mormon wars

In the summer of 1831 Joseph Smith claimed he had a revelation (D&C 57:1-3) that Independence, Missouri, was where the New Jerusalem was to be built. Good Mormons should come, quickly, and bring their money. Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1832, swearing that “This Generation will not pass away until the Temple is built in Independence.” (D&C 84:2-5, 31) Non-Mormon Missourians already in Independence disagreed. In December, 1833, Smith assured Mormons who were being attacked that “there is no other place than Missouri appointed by God for the gathering of the Saints.” (D&C 101:17-20)
Yeah, well… The Mormons were driven out of Independence in 1839. Seems God got it wrong all three times…

In 1834, Smith created a military arm of the Mormons called “The Armies of Zion.” They became better known as the Danites, because the tribe of Dan in ancient Israel had been fierce fighters. Today Mormons claim Joseph Smith never authorized the Danites’ activities, but Smith’s own papers admit otherwise.

They served as a bodyguard to Smith, enforcers among the faithful and defenders against outsiders. At one point they numbered in the thousands. From among their elite, twelve held the title, “Destroying angel.” In their oath of allegiance, they agreed to support Smith “in all things, RIGHT OR WRONG;” They also vowed to:
“cause all who speak evil of the presidency, or heads of the church, to die the death of dissenters or apostates.”
After being forced out of Independence, Smith prophesied (D&C 115) that Far West, Missouri, was actually where the temple should be built, (‘and this time I mean it!’ he might have added.) Further, his "revelation" swore that it would be built "diligently until it shall be finished, from the cornerstone thereof unto the top thereof.”

Ummm, well; ‘the top thereof’ never saw the light of day: the Far West temple was never finished.

In 1837, Smith said that Kirtland, Ohio, “must be built up, and will be built up, and every brother that will take hold and help secure and discharge these [land] contracts shall be rich." (LDS Mess. & Adv. April, 1837) Most of those involved in Kirtland land speculation lost their shirts.

Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri, had had enough. On October 27, 1838, he issued what became known as The Extermination Order. In part it read:
“Having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description."
War followed the governor’s edict. In March of 1841, Smith claimed God told him to build a city called Zarahemia, in Iowa, across the river from Nauvoo, Missouri. (D&C 125:1-4) Perhaps he was worried about Boggs’ Extermination Order. In any case, either Smith or God was wrong again; Zarahemia was never built.

The book Story of Lee County Iowa tells of another real estate scam:
“On May 9, 1839, Dr Isaac Galland presented Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet a tract of land where the Town of Nauvoo Illinois is now situated. Smith laid out the Town of Nauvoo under a charter that conferred extravagant and dangerous powers upon the city officials… Nauvoo became a breeding place for outlaws and probably the true story of all the outrages committed by these outlaws will never be told. Fugitives from justice sought refuge there and if anyone should be arrested, witnesses could always be found to provide an alibi.”
By this time, Smith had turned his real estate grift into a Ponzi scheme. He put the word out: All good Mormons, get to Nauvoo! Then he sold land to the new arrivals at ten times the market value. Plus, the new owners were expected to deed it over to the church and consider their tenancy on the land as a “stewardship” … If the land produced more than they needed for their family they were to contribute the excess to the church.
“We consider the gathering in hasted, and by sacrifice, to be contrary to the will of God; …it has been taught by Joseph Smith and others for the purpose of enabling them to sell property at most exorbitant prices, …to gull the saints the better on their arrival at Nauvoo, by buying the lands in the vicinity and selling again to them at tenfold advance. We consider it a deception practiced upon the saints.” (Nauvoo Expositor)
And that wasn’t the only swindle the Expositor was upset about:
“The sending of special agents abroad to collect funds for the Temple and other purposes is a humbug practiced by Joseph and others…the appropriations said to have been subscribed by shares for the building of the Nauvoo House have been used by J.Smith and Lyman Wight for other purposes.”
In addition to the swindles, the paper had a problem with another practice:
“With Joseph Smith, and many other official characters in the Church, many items of doctrine… are taught secretly, and denied openly…”
The article continued, quoting John 15:6. "'Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God… if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed…' We therefore are constrained to denounce them as apostates from the pure and holy doctrines of Jesus Christ.”

Smith’s plural marriage doctrine, ‘taught secretly and denied openly,’ was hypocritical, not scriptural. Jesus could not have been more clear: One man, one wife.
“…they twain [TWO] shall be one flesh…” (Matthew 19:5-9)
In that passage Jesus taught Christians to follow what marriage had been “from the beginning.” Adam had one wife. Smith and his cohorts preferred what ‘Moses suffered (tolerated) because of the hardness of their hearts.’ The Expositor’s editors knew that Smith and his buddies were ‘bringing not this doctrine,’ the one Jesus taught, and for that reason faithful Christians should not even ‘bid them godspeed.’

When his closest followers began questioning his teachings, Smith responded with a sermon in which he said in part:
"I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet...When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go." (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408-409).
The word you’re looking for is “megalomaniac.”

The new governor, Thomas Ford, began investigating complaints about Nauvoo. He later wrote:
“Joe Smith began to play the tyrant over several of his followers. Without the authority of law, he established a recorder's office in Nauvoo in which alone the titles of property could be recorded. In the same manner and with the same want of legal authority he established an office for issuing marriage licenses. He proclaimed that none in the city should purchase real estate to sell again but himself. He also permitted no one but himself to have a license in the city for the sale of spirituous liquors. The despotism, administered by a corrupt and unprincipled man, soon became intolerable.”
On the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor by Smith's henchmen he said:
“The Common Council violated the law …in not calling a jury, in not swearing all the witnesses, in not giving the owners of the property… an opportunity of giving the truth in evidence as in other cases of libel. The Mayor (Smith) violated the law in ordering this erroneous and absurd judgment… one finds difficulty in determining whether the proceedings of the Council were more the result of insanity or depravity… The [owners of the paper] retired to Carthage, Illinois, and took out arrest warrants for the Mayor and …others engaged in the outrage. Some of those were arrested but were immediately taken before the Municipal Court [of Nauvoo] and discharged from custody…”This proceeding touched the liberty of the press which is justly dear to any free people…”
The Governor’s indictment included other charges:
  • “Joe Smith sent a band of his followers to Missouri to kidnap two men who were witnesses against a member of his Church.”
  • “It was also a notorious fact that he had assaulted and severely beaten an officer of the county…”
  • “It is a fact also that he stood indicted for the crime of perjury in swearing to an accusation for murder in order to drive a man out of Nauvoo who had been engaged in buying and selling lots and land and thus interfering with the monopoly of the Prophet as a speculator.”
  • “It is a fact also that his Municipal Court of which he was Chief Justice… had frequently discharged individuals accused of high crimes and offenses against the laws of the State and, on one occasion, had discharged an arrested person accused of swindling the Government of the United States.”
  • “[Smith] obstructed the administration of justice, and had set up a government at Nauvoo independent of the laws and Government of the State.”
Smith declared martial law in Nauvoo, called out 5,000 Danites to fight Governor Ford’s state militia, then fled to Iowa where he was arrested on an extradition order from Ford. However, a band of 170 Danites arrived, grabbed Smith, kidnapped the two deputies holding him, and hustled all three back to Nauvoo. A Mormon judge there immediately released Smith on bail, and exonerated the Danites of the kidnapping of the deputies.

Smith made plans to flee to the Rockies, but a message arrived from Mrs. Smith urging him to give himself up. Several of his followers were losing faith, accusing him of cowardice. Smith turned himself in at Carthage. The charge of sedition was added to his other crimes. This time, he was not released on bail.

When Smith submitted to arrest he reportedly said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.” However, on June 27, 1844, belying that blasphemous claim, Smith accepted a pistol smuggled into the jail by Cyrus Wheelock. When the jail was attacked that evening, he used it. Two of the attackers died after being shot by Joseph Smith, the man who once said: “Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come." (D&C 42:18)

Smith died at the hands of the attackers. Mormons love the quote about a lamb to the slaughter and call Smith a martyr, but that is an insult to martyrs. When Jesus was murdered, he quietly prayed for forgiveness for his ignorant murderers. (Luke 23:34) When Stephen was stoned, he did not throw stones back. (Acts 7:58) When James died by the slash of a sword he wasn’t playing Zorro. (Acts 12:2)

If Joseph Smith were alive today, the bumper sticker on his car would read, WJWDDTO. 'Whatever Jesus would do, do the opposite!'

Yet the worst crime in the history of Mormonism hadn’t happened yet. We’ll talk about that in the next column.

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