Question: Did Joseph Smith join the Methodists as an "exhorter" years after being told not to join another church during the First Vision?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith join the Methodists as an "exhorter" years after being told not to join another church during the First Vision?

Joseph was not a "licensed exhorter" for the Methodists, but instead participated in a "juvenile debating club"

Although the Palmyra Register does not specify the location of the Methodist camp meeting in 1820, we do have evidence that meetings were indeed occurring on Vienna Road. John Matzko cites Orsamus Turner,

At some point between 1821 and 1829, Smith served as “a very passable exhorter” at Methodist camp meetings “away down in the woods, on the Vienna Road.”[1]

It should be noted that Matzko's assertion that this occurred "between 1821 and 1829" is not supported by the source, since Turner never specifies the timeframe during which Joseph acted as an "exhorter." Despite the fact that Turner is a hostile source , the full quote does contain some important additional information,

But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations; the mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; amid, subsequently, after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.[2]

Joseph could not have been a "licensed exhorter" without being a member of the Methodist Church

This quote presents critics with a dilemma (as can be seen in the Wikipedia article "First Vision"). Critics wish to demonstrate the Joseph was associated with the Methodists after being instructed during the First Vision not to join any church. They attempt to do this by minimizing the mention of a "debate club" and instead imply that Joseph was a formal "exhorter" in Methodist meetings. It is noteworthy, however, that even critic Dan Vogel states that Joseph "could not have been a licensed exhorter since membership was a prerequisite."[3]

This is consistent with Joseph Smith's own history, in which he stated that he became "partial to the Methodist sect" and that he "felt some desire to be united with them"

Joseph Smith:

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.[4]

Notes

  1. John Matzko, "The Encounter of the Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40 no. 3 (Fall 2007), 78 note 2, citing Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve (Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1851), 214, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50...
  2. Orsamus Turner (1801-1855) "Origin of the Mormon Imposture," Littell's Living Age Vol. XXX, No. 380 (August 1851): 429.
  3. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50, n. 15.
  4. Joseph Smith - History 1:8.