Almost 20 years ago, while I was still in college, I passed on the chance to buy stock in Google.
Back then I was young, bull-headed, and traded stocks like Evel Knievel.
At that time the world was still "Asking Jeeves" their questions (for you Millennials, that was an early entry in the internet search wars of the late 1990s to early 2000s).
But I was told Google was just another passing tech-bubble company and so I didn't invest. If only!
My personal bad decisions, though, pale in comparison to some of the bad decisions others have made in history.
- Filling the Hindenburg blimp with hydrogen
- The Donner Party taking a 'shortcut' - Decca Records in 1962 passing on the opportunity to sign a little unknown band called The Beatles.
- Allowing Brigham Young to lead the church for 30 years
Okay, that last one is going to need some explanation.
Brigham Young got almost everything wrong.
Brigham Young was the "American Moses."
He accomplished a lot of impressive things. Like you, I admire many things about President Young. I can honestly say I am looking forward to getting to know him in the Spirit World (where I am sure he is raising Cain right now).
So this is going to be challenging because I want to reorient our perspective on his tenure as President of the Church.
Brigham was 43 years old when Joseph died. (He assumed leadership of the Church despite the fact that D&C 107 clearly required a high priest to be President. Brigham was never a High Priest.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as we know it today is the outgrowth of the policies, practices, and doctrines of Brigham Young.
So while I don't mean to judge the man (that is between him and his Maker), I think it is okay for us to judge his legacy (especially if we try to do so objectively ― and as charitably ― as possible).
Where the Red Fern Grows
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous.
What does this mean? I think Jesus was saying, "It's hypocritical to revere those whom we regard as prophets who have died, but reject the living prophets standing right in front of us today."
Well, are we garnishing the grave of Brigham Young?
I want to suggest something that is not going to be popular. I think the Church has not yet recovered from Brigham Young's presidency.
What do I mean by that? Here we are, 150 years later, and still untangling the messes he created. It's like Brigham took some of the worst errors and excesses of Nineteenth Century America and . . . made them part of our religion. Including:
- Railroad and business speculation (treating religion as if it were a business)
- Prejudice against Native Americans (treating those who are different as inferior human beings)
- Racism against Blacks (structuring a hierarchy that disenfranchises a whole race of people)
- Misogynistic views of women (structuring a hierarchy that disenfranchises a whole gender of people)
- Making heteronormative sex the crowning attribute of deity(structuring a hierarchy that disenfranchises a whole orientation of people)
- Teaching blood atonement and the Adam-God Doctrine (which the Church has disavowed; but these were central, saving doctrines under Brigham Young, like polygamy (though polygamy endures on life support today through sealings to multiple women in our temples)
How can we measure the generational damage caused by Brigham's legacy?
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Some highlights of Brigham Young's presidency, and a modern-take on them:
1. Brigham made Utah a Slave territory in 1852
Slavery is immoral and against God's law. Is now, was then (D&C 101:79).
2. He denied priesthood ordination and temple covenants to Blacks
Racism is immoral and against God's law. Is now, was then (2 Nephi 26:33).
President Nelson said: "Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent" (June 1, 2020).
3. Taught the Adam-God Doctrine
This doctrine has been Disavowed by the Church and called a false doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie in the Eugene England Letter.
4. Practiced polygamy and declared it was necessary for exaltation
Polygamy as practiced by the Church was a "whoredom" that created a religious sacrament out of institutional adultery. This was condemned by the Lord in Jacob 2:26-28.
5. Died the richest man in Utah in 1877 with a wealth of over $2 Million
Jesus taught his disciples to take neither purse nor scrip. The law of Zion is "to be equal" as stewards of what God has given (D&C 82:15-21).
6. Preached blood atonement, waged war with the Indians, and covered up the Mountain Meadows Massacre, using his adopted son John D. Lee as a scapegoat
The Lord strongly condemns secret combinations and all manner of lyings, deceits, mischiefs, hypocrisy, murders, and priestcrafts (3 Nephi 16:10).
7. Voted on January 29, 1845 to exempt himself and the other apostles from paying tithing
So much for pure religion. Jesus taught his disciples to not devour the widows' houses (Luke 20:46-47).
8. Distrusted women, disbanded the Relief Society after Joseph's death, and said, "I don't want the advice or counsel of any woman — they would lead us down to hell. There is no woman on the face of the earth that can save herself— but if she ever comes into the Celestial Kingdom, she must be led in by some man — God knew what Eve was." (Discourse, March 9, 1845)
God is not sexist. Men and women are equal (1 Cor. 11:11-12).
Brother Brigham is Challenging for the Saints
Let's get one thing straight: the Lord loves Brigham Young. Just as He loves all of us.
But we might wonder, "Why did the Lord allow Brigham Young to lead the Church down such a misguided path?"
Contrary to popular belief, Church leaders can lead us into foolishness and error: as shown by the Church "disavowing" Brigham's Adam-God doctrine and his teachings on race.
This is how the Church tacitly admits that prophets do, at times, lead us astray, while claiming the opposite.
It only makes sense. After all, we all have agency. Presidents of the Church have agency. And we have learned by sad experience, that when a man gets a little authority, as he supposes . . . .
How did all of this happen? How did the Church get hornswoggled into being a sexist, elitist, racist, rich organization?
Well, it was easy. The reason is simple: the members of the Church went along with it.
They followed Brigham Young (at least those that came West) and turned a blind eye to his egregious policies and practices.
So in the end, we stuck the Lord with Brigham, not the other way around.
(But the funny thing is that we're still doing it.)
Take King Saul. The children of Israel petitioned Samuel for a king. Remember how Samuel tried to talk them out of it, but they insisted?
So the Lord relented and gave the people what they asked for: a king. For better or worse.
Brigham Young was our Saul.
Abinadi Speaks Truth to Power
Several years after Joseph Smith's death, after Brigham had successfully solidified his power among the Quorum of the 12 and over the Church, on February 12, 1849, the Council of Fifty anointed him as the "king and president" of the Kingdom of God on earth.
(I guess something like that could go to one's head.)
There was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying:
Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
Well, the problem, you see, is that Abinadi did not hold a position of prominence; nobody recognized his authority; he had no ecclesiastical muscle.
Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi?
What we see in the scriptures is weird: we discount true prophets because they don't come from the recognized ranks of leadership.
Why does the Lord send prophets to help us course-correct from outside the established channels?
Well, maybe it's because history has shown it is nigh-impossible for those within the system to recognize the problems or to have the gumption to do something about it.
So the Lord didn't go to the President of the Presbytery in 1820 to amend the creeds; he went to a know-nothing kid named Joseph Smith.
Careful: how do those seated in power react to criticism? Not well. (Just ask Herod.)
And so Brigham Young ensured that there would be no space in the Church for Abinadis. He created a hierarchy that forbade prophecy against leadership from within the ranks.
What an Elysium of, by, and for the leaders, right?
No wonder Caiaphas and his cohort "envied" (Mark 15:10) Christ. He was an outsider. He was not recognized from their ranks. He held no ecclesiastical office.
In other words: he destroyed their priestcraft.
But while we can sit in Moses' seat all day long until the cows come home, it is stunning to behold a person bearing real power and authority that comes directly from God:
The people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on Abinadi, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord.
And Abinadi spake with power and authority from God; and he continued his words, saying: Ye see that ye have not power to slay me, therefore I finish my message.
This is true power: a lone man delivering the word of God to those in authority at the peril of his life.
A Prophetic Warning
I want to repeat Alma's prophetic warning that he gave to Nehor. Nehor was popular and he taught the people that priests should be supported financially in their religious labors (just like the priests of King Noah, Korihor and General Authorities).
Were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.
I want to suggest something. This is going to be a tough pill to swallow.
But before you spit out this bitter pill, please give it due consideration:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been practicing the doctrine of Nehor since the time of Brigham Young.
Chastity for Churches: A Poem
The congress of bodies making love has an unusual way of crossing interstate lines. The power to tax is the power to destroy what is most holy. The windows of hell open for the widow whose dowry is devoured by the oldest profession of Nehor. Eternal revenue services the treasured Mystery-of-the-Bed:
You can skip the wedding supper and exchange money instead.