Question: Did Joseph Smith claim that the Kirtland Safety Society was established by a revelation from God?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith claim that the Kirtland Safety Society was established by a revelation from God?

Joseph did not record or claim a revelation on the formation of the Kirtland Safety Society

It seems, rather, to have been his attempt to solve a complex and serious problem that probably had no good solution given the financial tools available to him. His anxiety to solve the Church’s financial problems led to difficulty, but Joseph was not alone: hundreds of thousands of frontier settlers had to resort to similar tactics:

Erroneous banking policies caused financial services to expand much more slowly than the growth in real economic activities retarded the growth process and forced people to create illegal mediums of exchange to substitute for inefficient barter.[1]

Joseph insisted that a prophet was only a prophet when he was acting as such. The Kirtland Bank episode is a good example of fallible men doing their best to solve an intractable problem. (Joseph also emphasized that there was no expectation of success if members did not follow his counsel--which they did not.)

Brigham Young described an incident from his own life that speaks to the Kirtland Safety Society period:

I can tell the people that once in my life I felt a want of confidence in brother Joseph Smith, soon after I became acquainted with him. It was not concerning religious matters-it was not about his revelations-but it was in relation to his financiering-to his managing the temporal affairs which he undertook. A feeling came over me that Joseph was not right in his financial management, though I presume the feeling did not last sixty seconds, and perhaps not thirty...

Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults. I repented of my unbelief, and that too, very suddenly; I repented about as quickly as I committed the error. It was not for me to question whether Joseph was dictated by the Lord at all times and under all circumstances or not...

Had I not thoroughly understood this and believed it, I much doubt whether I should ever have embraced what is called "Mormonism." He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine. And it was not for me to question it, if the Lord was disposed to let Joseph lead the people astray, for He had called him and instructed him to gather Israel and restore the Priesthood and kingdom to them.

That was my faith, and it is my faith still… it is taught to the people now continually, to have implicit confidence in our leaders to be sure that we live so that Christ is within us a living fountain, that we may have the Holy Ghost within us to actuate, dictate, and direct us every hour and moment of our lives. How are we going to obtain implicit confidence in all the words and doings of Joseph? By one principle alone, that is, to live so that the voice of the Spirit will testify to us all the time that he is the servant of the Most High....[2]

Thus, Brigham did not deny the error, or insist that it could not happen. But, he did not allow himself to be distracted by it.

Warren Parrish, one year after hearing Joseph, claimed that he said that it "should swallow up all other Banks...and survive when all others should be laid in ruins"

Warren Parrish would apostatize, and later claim on 15 February 1838 (a little more than one year after the fact):

I have listened to [the Prophet] with feelings of no ordinary kind when he declared that the audible voice of God instructed him to establish a Banking-Anti-Banking Institution, which, like Aaron's rod, should swallow up all other Banks...and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.[3]

Wilford Woodruff's diary on the day that Joseph spoke: "He did not tell us at that time what the LORD said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the Commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well"

Fortunately, there is a contemporaneous account from Wilford Woodruff, who wrote in his diary on the very day that Joseph spoke -- 6 January 1837:

I also herd President Joseph Smith jr. declare in the presence of F Williams, D. Whitmer, S. Smith, W. Parrish, & others in the Deposit Office that he had receieved [check spelling] that morning the Word of the Lord upon the Subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself & he had not ownly the voice of the Spirit upon the Subject but even an audable voice. He did not tell us at that time what the LORD said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the Commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well (spelling and capitalization in original, italics and emphasis added).[4]

The similarities and differences in these accounts are striking. In both reports, Joseph said that the Lord has spoken to him in "an audible voice." Parrish was present at the event described by Woodruff. Yet, Woodruff indicated that Joseph did not tell them what the Lord had said, other than to make a conditional promise if they were all obedient.

Why should we believe the later, hostile report of Parrish (who had something to gain by lying) when it doesn't match the contemporary report written before there was any problem with the bank?

Parrish knew that the bank was in serious trouble by August 1838 - Why did Parrish not tell the court about the supposed "revelation" which he would cite about eight months later?

The Kirtland Safety Society was in serious trouble by the spring of 1837. Joseph Smith had resigned from it by 8 June 1837. Yet, in the same month of June, Parrish was called to testify in the case of Grandison Newell vs. Joseph Smith. Newell put Parrish on the stand but

when [Warren Parrish was] asked by the lawyers, "Do you know of anything in the character or conduct of Mr. Smith which is unworthy of his profession as a man of God?" the answer was, "I do not."[5]

So, by this date Parrish knew that the bank was in serious trouble. He was also hostile to Joseph (on May 29 he would bring high council charges against him for "lying...extortion...and...speaking disrespectfully against his brethren behind their backs."[6] He was in court under oath, called by the prosecution because they thought he would help their case against Joseph Smith, and yet he said he knew nothing in Joseph's conduct or character which suggested his profession as a man of God was unfounded.

Why did Parrish not tell the court about the supposed "revelation" which he would cite about eight months later? Quite simply because (as the Woodruff diary shows) Joseph reported the contents of no such revelation. This points to a February 1838 fabrication by Parrish. Would Parrish lie? He later brought charges against Sidney Rigdon for, among other things, "expressing an unbelief in the revelations of God, both old and new."[7] To charge Sidney Rigdon—former Campbellite preacher, student of the Bible, and stirring biblical orator—with disbelieving the revelations of God is simple nonsense. It is one more bit of evidence that Parrish's word, by this point in time, cannot be trusted.

Notes

  1. Adams, 481.
  2. Brigham Young, "He That Loveth Not His Brother...," (29 March 1857) Journal of Discourses 4:297-297.
  3. Letter published in the 15 Feb. 1838 Painesville Republican, re-printed in The Ohio Repository, 22 Mar. 1838; cited in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 194.
  4. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 1:120. ISBN 0941214133.
  5. Elder's Journal 1 no. 4 (August 1838).
  6. Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson, "Charges Against Joseph Smith, Jr., n.d.," Newel K. Whitney Collection, Special Collections, BYU; cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 196. (Reviews)
  7. Vault-Ms 76, box 2, fd 2, Special Collections, BYU; cited in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 196.