Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Office of Presiding Patriarch: Where Has It Gone?

Search the Mormon scriptures for the term patriarch and you will find the following tantalizing reference in D&C 124:91-95:
91 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William be appointed, ordained, and anointed, as counselor unto my servant Joseph, in the room of my servant Hyrum, that my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and aPatriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right;
92 That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the apatriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,
93 That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he acurses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bbind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
94 And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a aseer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph;
95 That he may act in concert also with my aservant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the bkeys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant cOliver Cowdery;
What's so tantalizing about this you ask? Joseph Smith instituted the office of Presiding Patriarch of the church and Brigham Young later stated that it was an office that should always exist within the church yet today that office no longer exists in the church. It was silently done away with when the church put its last Presiding Patriarch on "emeritus" status without explanation to him or the church other than that all stakes had their own local patriarchs and that therefore the presiding office was no longer necessary.

What is lost in all of this is the prolonged internal debate and dissension within the presiding circles of the church over what exactly the nature of the office of Presiding Patriarch was within the church. The above quote is about all that the scriptures have to say about it, but in Joseph Smith's time it was understood that it was a lineal office that should go to the oldest worthy descendant of Joseph Smith, Sr and that understanding continued in the church right until the end of the office.

So what happened? In a nutshell the office threatened the primacy of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. When Joseph Smith was murdered there were no clear succession plans. During his life Joseph Smith ordained his son Joseph Smith III to be his successor but he was too young. There were various claimants to the position but ultimately most of the church followed the president of the 12, Brigham Young. But even with the 12 some of the apostles felt that a new prophet could take the position of the president of the church without a revelation. That revelation never came and after a few years Brigham filled the position and this precedent has been followed to this day despite the fact that there is not revelation stating that this is the correct method of succession. The church could change its succession tradition whenever it wants to and not contradict any known Mormon doctrine. What the tradition does do is eliminate dissent when the president dies.

So how does that relate to the office of Patriarch? In the same section God reveals the officers of the presiding priesthood in order and for a long time the officers were sustained in this order during church conferences.
123 Verily I say unto you, I now give unto you the officers belonging to my Priesthood, that ye may hold the keys thereof, even the Priesthood which is after the order of Melchizedek, which is after the order of mine Only Begotten Son.
124 First, I give unto you Hyrum Smith to be a patriarch unto you, to hold the sealing blessings of my church, even the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption, that ye may not fall notwithstanding the hour of temptation that may come upon you.
125 I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet.
126 I give unto him for counselors my servant Sidney Rigdon and my servant William Law, that these may constitute a quorum and First Presidency, to receive the oracles for the whole church.
127 I give unto you my servant Brigham Young to be a president over the Twelve traveling council;
128 Which Twelve hold the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom upon the four corners of the earth, and after that to send my word to every creature.
Note that the office of Patriarch was listed first, before even the prophet or first presidency. Although it was an office without institutional authority over the operations of the church, it seems clear that it was intended to be a presiding officer on par with the rest.

In the aftermath of Joseph Smith's death Brigham Young's authority was challenged on several fronts. The Quorum of the Seventy was also a presiding quorum that theoretically could claim authority to lead the church. Young deftly defused that potential threat by creating stake level quorums of seventy. This ploy existed in the church until the church put the matters right in the 80s when they eliminated the local 70s and left only the 70s who were in the first and second quorums of the 70s. 

He was also threatened by the Smith family. There was young Joseph III, but there were also Joseph's surviving brothers Samuel and William. Samuel died in the care of a confidant of Brigham Young and William believed that Samuel was poisoned to remove a threat to Brigham's authority. William became the presiding patriarch but challenged Brigham's leadership and was subsequently excommunicated under the pretext that he was teaching and practicing polygamy even though all of the twelve were also doing so.

Note that in all of this that a revelation was never received clarifying how the succession was to procede. Remember that Mormon's claim to fame is that it is led by prophets. Yet at a critical junction the leadership crisis was dealt with in a manner that you'd expect from any similar institution with plenty of politics, strife, and machinations.

The next patriarch was Joseph Smith, Sr.'s brother John. He had zero aspirations to power and was thus a safe choice while Hyrum Smith's son was a child. When John Smith died in 1854 the patriarchal office fell on a different John Smith, the eldest son of Hyrum Smith and half brother of apostle and future president Joseph F. Smith. He held the office from 1855 to 1911, but his tenure turned out to impact future successions to the office. While he fulfilled the office well and gave many blessings, he smoked and drank and didn't live the principle of polygamy with proper enthusiasm. He took a second wife, but apparently only as an obligation. His first wife hated the practice and in one telling quote remarked that all of the girls 14-19 in the territory were married off to polygamists. 

John Smith was publicly called to task over his shortcomings during his lifetime and when he died in 1911 the office of patriarch passed over his son to his grandson, Hyrum G. Smith. Apparently John's son was not deemed worthy since he apparently wasn't faithful in obeying the Word of Wisdom.

With Hyrum G. Smith the role of the presiding patriarch again became an issue and a perceived threat to the apostles. Unlike his two predecessors, he was a strong leader and under the presidency of his uncle, Joseph F. Smith, he tried to reassert the primacy of the office of Patriarch in the church. While supported by the president, this received a chilly reception from other apostles. This hostility resulted in the office of Patriarch going unfilled after his untimely death in 1932.

The successor by lineal descent should have been Eldred G. Smith, but President Heber J. Grant strongly opposed him and refused to call him to the office. Unfortunately, the church assumed that he wasn't being called because of unworthiness and he had to live with that stigma for over a decade.

Now once again, this is where a prophet would have come in really handy. Instead, President Grant had the apostles research the issue. He really, really wanted to get around the lineal descent issue so he could be allowed to choose a man of his choosing. He felt that Eldred was too young and of insufficient stature to take such a prominent position. Furthurmore, Grant had grown up in the 1800s and was very familiar with Eldred's great grandfather who had the Word of Wisdom and polygamy problems. Based on that he felt that the entire line of descendants from John Smith were unworthy to hold the office and he preferred for the office to go to a different descendant of Joseph Smith Sr. that he felt was more worthy. In 1942 he finally got his way and Joseph Fielding Smith was set apart as presiding patriarch. The inspiration behind this choice was revealed when the new patriarch was released in 1946 after he was discovered to be a homosexual. So much for revelation.

Eldred G. Smith finally became presiding patriarch in 1947 and continued in that role until 1979 when he told that he was being place on emeritus status.

The thing I find stunning in all of this is the complete lack of divine inspiration and direction in such critical questions as prophetic succession and the role of patriarch and other presiding officers in the church and the ultimate dropping of what was originally the first presiding officer in the church.

I guess I haven't heard how the apologists address this issue, if they even do, but it strongly confirms my belief that the Mormon church is not what it claims to be.

The whole story is documented in the following fascinating book: Irene M. Bates and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch, Urbana, Illinois, 1996.


Anonymous said...

a place to vent

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that the manner in which you go about examining the LDS faith (critically) is the exact opposite of the way in which I examined the faith prior ro joining (whichis I guess obvious). I examined the doctrines fo eth faith as a non-believer attempting to see if they were possibly true. Your approach is that you thought they were true but now you are attmpting to prove them false. Both approaches carry a bias.

Bull said...

Exactly. I'm now thinking critically which means that I'm looking for contradictions and other evidence that show that something is false. How is that biased? Critical thinking is essential to avoid being duped or misled.

I've been satisfied by ample examples of contradictions and other falsities that the Mormon church isn't what it claims to be. This blog shares some of those things so that those willing to think for themselves can reach their own conclusions.

I'm curious about what you think of this particular example. Does it make you think differently about the church and its claims to be guided by Christ via his prophet? Would knowledge of these facts cause you to consider the prophet's words more critically, especially if they appeared to be incorrect?

Anonymous said...

I'll get to your post about the Presiding Patriach later.

Back to the concept of critical thinking. To think critically does not mean to be critical or negative in our viewpoint. Critical thinking is nothing more than skilled, observational analysis and examination of an subject. To that point, we could both be described to be thinking critically. However, as each of us had an end result in mind (me: to verify the truth, you, to verify the falseness), we would also have to admit to having a bias. Proper critical thinking involves objective analysis without bias. In other words, you don't care what the result is. This lack of bias allows for the best observation. Bias creates a self-fulfilling result; You wanted to prove the church false so you did. I wanted to prove the church true so I did.

Bias in matters of faith is extremely hard to avoid. I am not blaimng you for your bias. Just pointing it out as well as admitting to my own.

So then the question becomes, if bias is so unavoidable, what can we do to establish truth? Well, that become pretty complicated.

As someone who appreciates the philosphy of Kant, I personally believe it is impossible to PROVE anything false or true, especially something metaphysical. In other words, we aren't trying to prove that gravity exists, we are trying to prove if Joseph Smith lied or not. Pretty hard to prove somehting so "mushy" conclusively (either for or against). Anyone who claims this is easy to prove is simply admitting their bias. And there is no shame in bias. But it is bias nontheless.]

Since I believe that metaphysical subjects can not be proved, I then believe that PERSUASION becomes incredubly important. And I am not talking about persuading others. I believe all persuasion is self-persuasion. When I joined the church, I wanted to believe and I wanted it to be true. I persuaded myself (I would also argue this was a result of a spiritual manifestation of the Holy Ghost but that gets back to facts I can not establish).

What does all of this mean? To me, it means that YOU are accepting the falseness of the LDS church with the same kind of fervor as a new convert TO the faith accepts the truth of the LDS church. You are no more assured of standing on solid ground than a TBM. You have all the zeal of a newly minted MTC missionary.

You are simply at the other end of the SAME continuum as a TBM. And that's OK too. You have every right to do that. Just don't try to make your position out to be something it is not.

You argue, "I thought I had the truth before. Now I know I have the truth!". When in reality, truth can only be a subjective observation noy an objective reality.

Here's an example; Imagine three people see a car accident. As witnesses, we each report what we saw. We may make very different observations. And they may be true or false. True observations may even seem to conflict based upon where we were standing when the accident occured. But we will each still be certain we are right; after all, we saw it with our own eyes.

So I am making an appeal for you to be OBJECTIVE. Examine your position. Ask; what can I absolutely prove beyong any shadow of a doubt. If you are being fair, you'll recognize that little in this life can be proved.

I equally will admit the same. Can I prove the LDS church is true? No. And I'll never be able to do so. But I am OK with that. I still believe the church to be true, all the while knowing that I could be wrong. This is what I call "honest faith". It is a simple fact that I could be wrong. And when folks like you offer evidence to support that, I am willing to examine what you offer (although I have no obligation). But I am even more willing to examine evidence offered by someone who doesn't care if the LDS church is true or not. Then I can trust that they are offering facts without bias or "spin".

So the question of where has the Presiding Patriarch gone is of little consequence to me. Can I examine it? Sure. But it doesn't hold much interest to me. Mostly because I know it will never yield an absolute proof of the truth or falseness of the LDS church, principally because none can exist.

Sorry to take up so much space here. I just enjoy this type of conversation. Say the word and I'll go away. And FYI, I think I am most of hte anon. posts here of late.

Bull said...

I kindly ask you to read further before assuming the bias I brought to my examination of the church. The fact is that I wanted it to be true, but was faced with facts that strongly contradicted my beliefs and desires. For nearly 10 years I hid my head in the sand and did a very non-objective thing: I simply didn't go looking for the contradictory evidence. It was only when I approached the topic as objectively as I could that I was able to accept what in hindsight is pretty obvious.

I'm pretty sure I've written elsewhere on this blog, but proving things false is ridiculously easy. You sound bright, so think about it. One of your examples is whether or not Joseph Smith lied. Well, that's pretty easy if we have him stating things that are later proved to be false (the definition of a lie). For example, his denials of polygamy among many other examples.

I also wonder how much YOU are trying to be objective given the closing two paragraphs of your last comment. You first state you are willing to consider the evidence and then turn around and say you don't care when I present some. I can only assume it is because you've taken the weak and indefensible position that nothing can be proven true or false.

In that case, there's really no point in discussion. You sound very much like my father in that regard...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you misunderstood. And perhaps I misunderstood.

First, I AM willing to consider contrary evidence of my faith. But being willing does not mean that I have any strong desire to do so. It just isn't a high priority for me. Admitting as much is part of an effort to be objective. If I lacked intellectual integrity I might just say, "oh sure I want to hear about it." I'm just being honest. I am afraid of any supposed facts? No. But I've spent countless hours reading stuff on the internet, reading books and talking to those opposed to our faith. I only have so much bandwidth and to be fair, I admit that it isn't a high priority. But I am not unwilling.

Also keep in mind, I was not evaluating your bias WHILE a memeber of the church. I was evaluating your current bias. And I could be wrong on that. But your posts seem to drip with a certain tone that suggests a bias. Much like your masthead above, ask yourself this; Are you willing to re-join the church if you find YOU were wrong? If you can't answer yes than you must have bias.

And no, I absolutely DO NOT accept that it is easy to prove that someone (specifically Joesph Smith) lied.

You said he stated things that were later proved to be false. But that assumes that the later proof is accurate.

I realize I operate in a slightly unique philsophical framework. But if, for example, I told you that Barack Obama doesn't exist, that he is a computer generated hologram, I would sumbit that YOU can not prove me wrong. I am not suggesting that he is mind you. What I am suggesting is that in my opinion there are very few (and perhaps zero) things that can be proved. I can not prove that I even exist. Proof suggests an perfectly self-evident standard.

It is similar to burdens of proof in court. In a criminal case you must prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt. So no doubt can exist. I say nothing can be proven to this standard. In a civil case the burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the "proof" we live with. It is reasonable to assume Barack Obama is not a hologram. It is reasonable to assume that I exist and that gravity exists.

Now back to Joseph Smith. Is it reasonable to assume he lied? It may be. I can promise you he did lie in his lifetime - all humans do. Were the lies consequential to the basis of the LDS faith? I don't know. But I am persuaded that they are not. This is my bias.

I am sorry but this is my approach to all questions spiritual or otherwise. It annoys coworkers, friends and my wife but it is the only way I can live.

In a nutshell, looking at things from my viewpoint, you seem frustrated and angry (an evidecne of bias) and you seem to spend an inordinate amount of time preaching your cause. That leads me to be cautious about your intent. But I am still willing to listen. Besides, you also seem to have a certain degree of sensitivity and openness that makes your blog appealing.

Look, I am happy to discuss. I just like to take folks through my tortured logic briefly before I discuss. It seems to help put us on more equal footing if we both can commit to be as objective as is humanly possible. Otherwise we will simply engage in debate. And winning a debate is never proof of a viewpoint, it is merely proof of superior debating skills to ones opponent.

Bull said...

Fair enough. I guess I understand where you are coming from even if I think it is a pretty weak position. If you didn't post as anon, then I could take your comments in that context in the future.

And, yes, I'm perfectly willing to consider that I may be wrong and that the church might be true. I'd absolutely LOVE it if the church would actually officially address my reasons for disbelief. The fact that they don't speaks volumes about the church.

Oh, and of course my blog drips with a certain tone. I actually don't spend that much time on it, but it has kind of accumulated over time.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that my position is weak. I think my position simply reflects reality and is most likely to be true.

But no matter. What my position leads me to believe is that YOU should be able to persuade me of the falseness of the church in one simple sentence. Most people I speak with explain to me that "it is easy to prove the church is false". Then when I confront them, they explain that I need to examine the Book of Abraham and the papyrii and get into some pretty esoteric doctrines and proofs. Easy?! This is easy? Are you kidding? You'd practically need a lifetime to read the materials they suggest let alone understand them. How much time and reading did you spend to determine that how you felt? So let's not kid. In either aspect there is nothing easy to prove.

So tell me. Do YOU think it is easy to prove the church is false?

I am setting something of a rhetorical trap for you here so be careful :-)

Bull said...

Enough. I've wasted too much time on someone who thinks that "Obama is a hologram" is a difficult assertion to disprove. If you struggle with things like that then while you think you are reasonable, I think most people would disagree. Your most recent comment just continues the absurdities. The fact that you cannot seem to recognize that goes a long way to explaining your belief in Mormonism.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You obviously missed my point entirely. And you taking a rhetorical construction I used to make a point (Obama, hologram etc.) to try to paint me as absurdist. Fine. Be dismissive. I guess that's how you deal with criticism. Seems hipocritical to be a critic who can't take criticism. It's easy to get where YOU are when you jump to conclusions and paint anyone with an opposing viewpoint as absurd.

Any fair-minded person would have realized I was simply trying to make a point with my analogy about Obama.

And my point was that I find your position to be untenable. It's "absurd" to decide to reject a faith based upon it's minutiae when that faith should be able to be judged by the sum of its parts first and foremost.

I think you just didn't like it when someone turned the tables on you. The thing about being in your position is that you get to play offense at all times. You are someone who attacks the LDS church. You aren't so accustomed to having your position attacked, are you? In my last post, I asked you to support your assertion with ONE SIMPLE ARGUEMENT AGAINST your former faith. Instead of even responding you just decided I was a nut who thinks the president is a hologram. That's downright childish. Sure, you have every right to ignore my posts on YOUR blog. You can even delete this one. But to take time to respond and just make an ad hominem attack is childish. If you don't like having your position questioned. Don't create a blog attacking a faith that millions cherish and then expect them all to be silent. Be a man. If you are going to throw punches, expect to take a few as well.

Look, the short version of my complaint against you is that you haven't "examined your examination". I tried to be thoughtful. I made this point in various ways and in the end I think you helped me prove my point by attacking me rather than respoding in-kind. Perhap I made you uncomfortable.

To use a final analogy, you seem like someone who doesn't believe in the sun because you see a faint shadow beside you.

Best wishes and all.

Anonymous said...

It is 'difficult' - but quite honestly, the word needed here is "absurd" - to presume to prove whether or not "the church is true" with two such gaping concepts here tied together in the same sentence. The definition of "the church" here appears to be the "assumed Mormon true church" which can only have its assumed meaning between two Mormon-oriented persons such as in this discussion. The second gaping gap is "is true" - where no criteria for establishing what constitutes the criteria for establishing "is true". A lot of dancing and arm-waving to be sure, but no content. Please allow me to "cut to the chase" about what The True Church is, and is not - with a couple of assumptions which I hope you will allow. I'm going to assume that the context of "the church" is founded on, based on, centered on the Life, Person, Death, and Resurrection of The One known in common parlance as "Jesus" - or more specifically, "Jesus, The Christ, The Anointed One, God, The Son, God Incarnate, crucified, dead, and buried, risen again to life, and ascended into Heaven, from whence He shall one day return to receive those who have placed their faith in Him". We ARE talking about That Jesus - right? And His Church - right? Ok - how can it not be more simple than this: God went to the trouble to take on human form, live among us, live a perfect, sinless life, teach us of His Word by BEING The Word among us. When His time among us ended, He indicated that ALL those who placed their faith in Him - their solid-as-a-rock (petra - Peter) FAITH in Him - would become His Church. *** ALL who *** *** HIS CHURCH *** NOT the Pope's "church", NOT the Baptist "church", NOT the Presbyterian "church", NOT the Methodist "church", NOT the Mormon "church", NOT the Episcopal "church". NOT ANY group of people with sets of "ideas" about what *they* think God's "church" "should" be. God has already established what is The True Church - FAITH IN JESUS. PERIOD. There is NOT ONE SINGLE ORGANIZATION, BUILDING, PERSON, "PROPHET", "POPE", "PRIEST" - NOT ONE THAT CAN CLAIM TO BE "THE TRUE CHURCH". And any who make that claim are either sadly ignorant, grossly deceived, and/or malignantly lying. That would most definitely include the Mormon organization, structures, and any doctrine that is apart from or contradicts The Word of God. TRULY, I SAY UNTO YOU -- THEY *WILL* HAVE THEIR "RE-WARD".
BUT!! there is always hope. I believe it's possible for ANY person to be a member of The True Church by virtue of their faith in Jesus - REGARDLESS of whatever religious organization they may find themselves associated with at any given time. Thus it is not possible to categorically claim that any "member" of a particular religious organization cannot possibly be "saved" to Eternal Life. However, the opposite error is to claim that by "belonging" - i.e. being a member in good standing, by their faith in the organization, and adherence to its tenets - one is assured "salvation". This can easily be seen to be lacking, since it is possible to belong to any organization, and even "profess" faith in Christ without actually having that faith.
ONLY GOD can actually know the true heart of any person, and ONLY faith in JESUS is required AND acceptable to GOD to become part of HIS TRUE CHURCH.

Anonymous said...

Mormons, Catholics, whomever -- just, please - REALLY - PLEASE - JUST GIVE IT UP ALREADY! You may have sent more people to hell by falsely claiming to be the true church than you have brought into saving faith - considering how many members may actually not have placed their faith in Jesus.
The GREATEST REVELATION that could possibly come to the Mormon organization, its leadership, and structure, would be the GOD-ONLY sent realization, and spiritual fortitude, to stand up to themselves, and each other, and their membership, and say, "we were wrong, we ARE wrong, we have been duped and have knowingly - at least to some extent - been following and perpetuating what we do not truly in our hearts believe ourselves". There IS ONLY ONE TRUE CHURCH -- and it isn't MORMON, nor CATHOLIC, nor any other *organization*; it is not people who obsessively invent and follow rituals, wear "special clothing", say "special words" - and wallow in their pride at how successful and "holy" they are for doing it.
The TRUE CHURCH is the widow trusting God for His Provision, the sick and dying drunk, overcome with sin, unable to follow in victorious living, yet in his heart believing that Jesus is The Christ, the Savior, the housewife who can't participate in worship for fear of her abusive husband ...
Mormons, there's hope for you, there's hope for anyone whosoever believes. And if you find that ANY person, or ANY organization is coming between you and a pure, child-like relationship of faith and trust in your Heavenly Father, you should have have NO REGRETS, NO SECOND THOUGHTS about REMOVING THAT BARRIER - NO MATTER WHAT *ANYONE* may have to say or think about it. Rather, you should greatly fear remaining in a situation that you know compromises your ability to live freely in a relationship of love with your heavenly Father. The unfortunate reality is that others who have more fear of man (family, church leaders, etc.) than God WILL make your life hell to preserve their own status quo in a cesspool of error and deception. Your relationship in faith between you and your Heavenly Father is just that - between you and your Heavenly Father - NONE OTHER.
God was certainly not sitting on His hands saying, "oh dear, oh dear, hurry up and be born J. Smith so I can start saving people.
God NEVER needed Joseph Smith to save anyone. God does not need the Pope to save anyone. God does not need any so-called Prophets or other leadership figures to save anyone. No Mormon prophet ever lived a sinless life or was anointed by God to give his life in payment for your sins. All He needs is The Finished Work of Jesus on The Cross (got that), and your heart. PERIOD.
Mormons, Catholics, Bible-thumpers, Fundamentalists - anybody who thinks their answer is the only answer - get real - with yourself, and with God. Otherwise get the hell out of the way - because that is exactly the way you are in.

Anonymous said...

ps - in case you didn't realize it - I'm a *different* 'anonymous' than the one previously posting - you can call me Anonymous2