Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith state when she joined the Presbyterians?

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Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith state when she joined the Presbyterians?

Lucy does not say when she joined the Presbyterians

Lucy Mack Smith does not say in her autobiography that she actually joined with the religious group that was composed of "all the churches". She only says that she desired to join with them. She may well have already been associated with the Presbyterians.

Lucy was baptized first and THEN in 1820 she formally joined a denomination

One Presbyterian author claims that "when Lucy reached Palmyra, she developed a connection with the Presbyterian church, even though she held aloof from membership." As support for this assertion, he cites Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 11-13 and notes that "Solomon Mack, Lucy's father, was a Universalist during her childhood but converted to orthodox Christianity in 1810." The author does not clarify the nature of Lucy's connection to the Presbyterian church after her arrival in Palmyra. Although he notes that Lucy "had sought spiritual comfort from a noted Presbyterian minister" while in Randolph, Vermont (citing Lucy's autobiography), he fails to note that this same autobiography provides the timeframe for when she was baptized. She says, “I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from membership in any church after which I pursued the same course until my oldest son [Alvin] attained his 22nd year” - which took place on 11 February 1820.

The "revival" mentioned by Lucy occurs one year prior to the 1824 revival

The "great revival in religion" that is mentioned in Mother Smith's autobiography appears to take place not long after Alvin's death in November 1823. In fact, it seems that it was Alvin's death that instigated this particular event. A disparity in timeframes (a one-year gap) calls any perceived connection between this event and Palmyra's 1824-25 revival into doubt. A ministerial eyewitness says that nothing much like a recognizable revival even took place in the village of Palmyra until December 1824 (The Methodist Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, April 1825). Mother Smith does not mention any conversions during the December 1823 denomination-welding event which she describes while the December 1824 revival garnered more than 150 converts who joined themselves with various separate churches.

Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Presbyterian church in March 1830

Church records confirm that Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra on March 10, 1830. The charge was 18 months of inactivity, which indicates that they had not attended since September 1828. This was one year after Joseph had received the plates. [1]

Joseph's actions support the First Vision account of his relatives joining the Presbyterians

Joseph Smith's comments to his mother about joining "any" church are significant. He said that taking such an action would be a mistake because of what was in the hearts of the adherents. During the First Vision the Lord told Joseph that the hearts of the members of the Christian denominations were far from Him (1832 account). Joseph also told his mother that if she did decide to join one of the churches she would not be long with them. This make perfect sense when it is remembered that just a few months prior to this time Joseph had informed his family that an angel had told him about golden plates and indicated that God was about to reveal "a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family" (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], chapter 18).

The facts contained within the primary source documents do not support the conclusions of the critics. Joseph Smith said that his mother and siblings were members of the Presbyterian church in 1820 when he had the First Vision and the writings of his mother and brother support that statement. Joseph Smith was not in a state of confusion or bent on deception when he recorded the occurrences of his past. Readers of the Prophet's history can have confidence in what is presented before them.

Notes

  1. Milton V. Backman and James B. Allen, "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith's Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 4 (1970), 482-484.