Brigham Young/Personal beliefs

Table of Contents

Brigham Young's personal beliefs

Jump to Subtopic:


Question: Was Brigham Young a "young earth creationist"?

Whether or not a prophet knows how old the earth is says nothing about whether he can teach the truths about Jesus Christ necessary for salvation

It is claimed that Brigham Young was a "young earth creationist" (YEC). This is someone who believes the earth was created in the recent past, usually 6-7,000 years ago, based upon a literal and fundamentalist reading of Genesis. For example, critic George D. Smith writes that

Brigham Young ridiculed geologists who "tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years."[1]

  • Did Brigham Young ridicule geologists who believe that the earth has existed for millions of years?
  • Was Brigham a young earth creationist?
  • Does Brigham knowledge (or lack of) regarding modern science challenge his status as a prophet?

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

The meaning of the passage is completely reversed when viewed in context. Brigham was not mocking those who accept an earth greater than six thousand years old—he is giving this idea his provisional approval and insists that while young earth creationism (as we would call it) may be a problem for traditional Christians, it is not a problem for the Latter-day Saints. An examination of the passage cited by George D. Smith (displayed in blue) in context clearly shows this:

You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, "If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity."

In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular...whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.
Brigham Young, (May 14, 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:115-116. (emphasis added)

Whether or not a prophet knows how old the earth is says nothing about whether he can teach the truths about Jesus Christ necessary for salvation.

However, in this case, some critics have twisted the documentary sources to make Brigham Young say something that is completely the opposite of what he intended.

For example, George D. Smith writes that

Brigham Young ridiculed geologists who "tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years."[1]

G. D. Smith quotes Journal of Discourses, 12:271, for this assertion. He gets the citation wrong (it is at 14:115) but he might benefit from reading 12:271—it provides Brigham’s insistence that plural marriage had little to do with early persecution of Joseph and the church.

What did Brigham really say?

Brigham in his own words

The source cited says nothing of the kind. Brigham begins by remarking that he is not surprised that unbelief prevails, since apostate “religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science.” To Brigham, this state of affairs creates a conflict in which men of science must reject truths discovered through science if they are to accept creedal Christianity. He then proceeds to give an example: “You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has.”

There is no ridicule here: Brigham points out that geologists “have good reason” to believe that the earth is extremely old. “If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago,” Brigham has the geologists reply, “our studies are all vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain.”

Concludes Brigham, “In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are.”[2]

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[3]

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[4]

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[5]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[6]


Question: Did Brigham Young believe that he would one day become president of the United States?

Hubert Howe Bancroft reports a prophecy made by Brigham Young in 1847, but provides no sources

Bancroft states that Brigham believed that one day soon he would himself become president of the United States, or that he would be able to dictate who should become the president. [7]

Hubert Howe Bancroft reports a prophecy made by Brigham Young in 1847. He provides no sources, so it is difficult to assess Brigham's possible meaning from Bancroft's report. [8] However, Heber C. Kimball spoke in 1856 with Brigham present, and we can perhaps see what Brigham intended:

The Church and kingdom to which we belong will become the kingdom of our God and his Christ, and brother Brigham Young will become President of the United States....

And I tell you he will be something more; but we do not now want to give him the name: but he is called and ordained to a far greater station than that, and he is foreordained to take that station, and he has got it; and I am Vice-President, and brother Wells is the Secretary of the Interior—yes, and of all the armies in the flesh.

You don't believe that; but I can tell you it is one of the smallest things that I can think of. You may think that I am joking; but I am perfectly willing that brother Long should write every word of it; for I can see it, just as naturally as I see the earth and the productions thereof. [9]

Critics of Mormonism usually make it appear that this is a desire or plan on behalf of Brigham Young to acquire secular political power. However, the Israelites did nothing to destroy or battle the Egyptians, they simply obeyed God and God protected and defended them. This fits in well with the apocalyptic view which Heber and Brigham seem to share of Brigham's future leadership in a divine, temporal kingdom of God on earth. But this is no more than the faithful have always anticipated:

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne....And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them....(Revelation 3:21, Revelation 20:4).

Brigham and Heber were a government-in-exile, but had faith their exile would soon end. [10] They needed only "stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14:13).

Heber C. Kimball does not foresee Brigham Young or other Church leaders ascending to power in the traditional way

Heber C. Kimball's meaning is clear. He does not foresee Brigham Young or other Church leaders ascending to power in the traditional way. Rather, he sees the end of the world as being near. Thus, he anticipates that the earthly Church will yet become "the kingdom of our God and his Christ"—a clear reference to DC 105:32, which promises that "the kingdoms of this world may be constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ; therefore, let us become subject unto her laws."

This imagery involves the Millennium or end-times, since it invokes the language of John's Revelation:

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night (Revelation 12:10).

This triumph in which the Church achieves the world's secular rule does not happen until Satan—"the accuser of our brethren"—is cast down. Just as Satan was cast from heaven, so he will be cast from rulership of the temporal world.

As head of the Church, Brigham will thus be called to world leadership when the day of the Lord comes—"President," and something grander. (Biblical prophets in a monarchy would be more likely to speak of kings rather than Presidents.) Early Latter-day Saints (like the early Christians) tended to believe that the second coming was very near, and so Heber and Brigham doubtless anticipated that God's triumph over Satan might come soon, within their lifetimes.

Heber's next words are instructive:

Let us live our religion, serve our God, be good and kind one to another, cease all those contentions in your houses, and live in peace....

Why, I would go to work and make an altar and a heaven, and I never would take any other course than that which is honorable before God; and how can you live your religion without this?....

Well, if it is time for the Government of the United States to cut the thread, we are perfectly competent to take care of ourselves. We would not give a dime for this people to be one more in number than they are. There are enough of us; for the Lord is going to manifest his power and to play with our enemies as he did with Pharaoh and all his host. Now, mark it, and see if it does not come so, or something similar. All these things are in this dispensation, and why? Because this is the fulness of times: it is the time fixed for all to make a sacrifice before God.


Question: Why did Brigham Young say that women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God"?

Brigham's intent has been distorted

Brigham Young said women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God". This is used to portray Brigham as authoritarian and sexist. However, Brigham's intent has been distorted, and those who cite this have used presentism to bias the reader against him.

Sally Denton uses this quote, and uses D. Michael Quinn, as her source. Unfortunately, Denton omits the context which Quinn's volume provides:

[women] have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God[—]outside the pale of this they have a right to meddle because many of them are more sagacious & shrewd & more competent [than men] to attend to things of financial affairs. they never can hold the keys of the Priesthood apart from their husbands. [11]

Brigham then continued, "When I want Sisters or the Wives of the members of the church to get up Relief Society I will summon them to my aid but until that time let them stay at home & if you see females huddling together veto the concern." [12]

Brigham's statement about "meddling," then, in no way reflects on women's competence or skills—he insists that many know better than men. Brigham's point is that women have no right to priesthood government. This statement was probably precipitated by Emma Smith's use of her role as head of the Relief Society to resist Joseph's teachings, especially plural marriage. [13] Brigham is signaling that those without priesthood power may not dictate to ordained priesthood leaders about priesthood matters.

The author relies on presentism, since Brigham and virtually all of his contemporaries (men and women) likely had attitudes about women's roles which would strike us as "sexist"

Though the quote seems offensive and exclusionary, we need to remember the context of the time. Attitudes toward women during that time, and even 100 years later, were far from our current attitudes. It is unreasonable to expect people living in a different time to fit 21st century perspectives. Brigham was, however, quite liberal for his day—he encouraged women to get an education: for example, he even assigned several to travel to the eastern United States to get training as physicians.


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 277. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  2. Brigham Young, "Attending Meetings—Religion & Science—Geology—The Creation," (14 May 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:115-116.
  3. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  4. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445.
  5. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007)
  6. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  7. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, 1540-1886, 505.
  8. One reference (Sunstone 6:4/41 [Jul 81]) places the prophecy in Brighton, Utah, 1857—this cannot be same reference as Bancroft's, since his event refers to events ten years before the approach of Johnson's army in 1857. Please contact FairMormon if you have further information.
  9. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:219.
  10. For this imagery, see Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts : a Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 7. ISBN 0252069803.
  11. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 650.
  12. Seventies Record, 9 March 1845, holograph, LDS Church Archives (cited in Beecher, see below).
  13. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, "Women in Winter Quarters," Sunstone no. (Issue #8:4/15) (July 1983), note 37. off-site