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Question: Did Joseph Smith give a false prophecy by claiming that queens would pay respect to the Relief Society within ten years?
Question: Did Joseph Smith give a false prophecy by claiming that queens would pay respect to the Relief Society within ten years?
According to Joseph's own words, the prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society
A record exists of Joseph prophesying that queens would pay their respects to the Relief Society within ten years of its formation. That no queens did so is held up as a sign of false prophecy. 
Regardless of whether or not one feels that the prophecy was literally fulfilled, or whether it yet remains to be fulfilled, we can all certainly agree with the opinion expressed by President Gordon B. Hinckley,
This is what the Relief Society does for women. It gives them opportunity for growth and development. It gives them status as queens in their own households. It gives them place and position, where they grow as they exercise their talents. It gives them pride and direction in family life. It gives them added appreciation for good, eternal companions and children.
Critics omit the qualifier as they try to discredit Joseph. Oversimplifying Joseph's statement to be "queens shall visit" within ten years, and then claiming that no queens came, ignores the context in which the prophecy was given.
This prophecy could in some ways be compared to the Lord's command that the Saints build up Zion in Jackson County. The Saints were driven out of the county and this command was not fulfilled. In both cases the prophecy had conditions which the people failed to meet. These conditions are based upon 1) the diligence of the faithful and 2) plans not being frustrated by hostile agents. One can take the view that God adapts to the actions of his people and reevaluates His plans: commanding and retracting as it seems good to him.
Such a record exists, although critics generally do not cite the entire text. Abanes, One Nation, for example, cites only: "I now prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society." Abanes then notes, "No queens have ever fulfilled this prophecy.".
Here is the prophecy in context, with several key phrases highlighted:
Females, if they are pure and innocent can come into the presence of God, for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent or you cannot come up before God. If we would come before God let us be pure ourselves. The devil has great power-- he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God-- You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck. Not war, not jangle, not contradiction, but meekness, love purity, these are the things that should magnify us. Action must be brough[t] to light—iniquity must be purged out—then the vail will be rent and the blessings of heaven will flow down-- they will roll down like the Mississippi river. This Society shall have power to command Queens in their midst-- I now deliver it as a prophecy that before ten years shall roll around, the queens of the earth shall come and pay their respects to this Society-- they shall come with their millions and shall contribute of their abundance for the relief of the poor-- If you will be pure, nothing can hinder.
After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves-- all are responsible to save themselves.
According to Joseph's own words, the prophecy is clearly conditional on the continuing righteousness of the Relief Society.
Fulfillment of the prophecy
There are several schools of thought regarding this prophecy:
- That fulfillment has been delayed.
- That it has already been fulfilled.
We do not take a position on this issue, but present the various arguments here.
Was the fulfillment of the prophecy delayed?
If the prophecy remained unfilled, then it would be because the conditions set forth were not met. There is some evidence to support this position.
For example, it is known that Joseph received considerable trouble from his wife, Emma, as head of the Relief Society. Emma would not support plural marriage, and used the Relief Society to attempt to thwart Joseph's teaching of it. Joseph was frequently trying to draw people up to their own better potential and encourage people to prepare to behold the face of God—he gave similar reproofs to the men of the Church:
- How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world! We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now. Some have tasted a little of these things, many of which are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes; yea, upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth. Therefore we beseech of you, brethren, that you bear with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exhort one another to a reformation with one and all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female; let honesty, and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place; and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile or hypocrisy.
However, in the case of the Relief Society prophecy, Joseph states, point blank, that "iniquity must be purged out," which implies that it has to be there to begin with. There were certainly apostates among the Relief Society.
Brigham Young was not pleased about what the Relief Society leadership had done to oppose Joseph and to oppose plural marriage, and the associated difficulties which the Relief Society and their zeal to expunge impurity caused. (Joseph spoke to them about this; some of the difficulties are discussed in Newell and Avery.)
Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society as an organization went on "hiatus." This "hiatus" had a lot to do with that, in historical context.
Brigham noted, one year after the martyrdom:
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, and if they say Joseph started it all tell them it is a damned lie for I know he never encouraged it.
Note that Brigham's issue is not with the existence of the Relief Society, but the "huddling together" to seek out iniquity. John Taylor gives us further background on why the organization was suspended,
The "reason why the Relief Society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith the Pres. taught the Sisters that the principle of Celestial Marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God."
It should be noted that Newell and Avery claim this is not true in the strict reading of the minutes, however, it is well known that Emma did everything she could to discourage people from following Joseph's teachings on plural marriage, both in what she said privately and publicly. Newell and Avery provide evidence of this tendency themselves, but don't draw the obvious conclusion.
Even Eliza R. Snow felt it necessary to correct the impression that the Relief Society in Nauvoo had done "more harm than good," emphasizing that it "saved many lives." But, the mere fact that she needed to correct this impression should tell us something about how the Relief Society under Emma's tenure was seen—there were lives saved, but there was also a somewhat darker side that kept Brigham from reconstituting the organization for ten years, and made Eliza need to emphasize that it had been worth it, on balance, even with the problems.
Emma, for her part, made her intent for the Relief Society clear:
"We intend to look into the morals of each other, and watch over each other…. All proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members [of the Relief Society]…. None can object to telling the good but withhold the evil." Given human nature, Emma was demanding an impossible commitment from her members…
Note Joseph's line to the sisters: "You need not be teasing men for their deeds, but let the weight of innocence be felt which is more mighty than a millstone hung about the neck."—i.e., quit acting as a type of police on public morals. He spoke on this more than once; it was an on-going problem, and much of it was driven by Emma. (Joseph had previously spoken to the Relief Society and cautioned them about their zeal not being according to knowledge.
Joseph said that there were problems that had to be improved. This could be good evidence that in Emma's case, that the problem wasn't solved. Joseph repeatedly talked to them about judging the actions of others, minding their own business, sustaining the prophet, and so forth. The following remarks from 28 April 1842 are from the same discourse as the prophecy under consideration in this article:
- "He exhorted the sisters always to concentrate their faith and prayers for, and place confidence in their husbands, whom God has appointed for them to honor, and in those faithful men whom God has placed at the head of the Church to lead His people; that we should arm and sustain them with our prayers; for the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect everything false; as well as to all the Elders who shall prove their integrity in due season."
- [Joseph] "said the same aspiring disposition will be in this Society, and must be guarded against; that every person should stand, and act in the place appointed, and thus sanctify the Society and get it pure (italics added)."
- [Joseph continued] "saying everyone should aspire only to magnify his own office and calling....and said, don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues, and not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus, and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham's bosom. He said he had manifested long-suffering, forbearance and patience towards the Church, and also to his enemies; and we must bear with each other's failings, as an indulgent parent bears with the foibles of his children (italics added)."
- "How precious are the souls of men! The female part of the community are apt to be contracted in their views. You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings. Let this Society teach women how to behave towards their husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble, when he is perplexed with care and difficulty, if he can meet a smile instead of an argument or a murmur—if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and soothe his feelings; when the mind is going to despair, it needs a solace of affection and kindness. (italics added)"
- When you go home, never give a cross or unkind word to your husbands, but let kindness, charity and love crown your works henceforward....Let your labors be mostly confined to those around you, in the circle of your own acquaintance, as far as knowledge is concerned, it may extend to all the world; but your administering should be confined to the circle of your immediate acquaintance, and more especially to the members of the Relief Society. Those ordained to preside over and lead you, are authorized to appoint the different officers, as the circumstances shall require.
Was the prophecy fulfilled?
One might ask, "What would it otherwise have taken to fulfill the prophecy? Was the Queen of England supposed to come to Nauvoo?" One could argue that the prophecy was in fact fulfilled. The queens in their midst were anointed as part of the endowment, revealed by Joseph at Nauvoo, and some had their election made sure before leaving for Utah. Joseph's speech to the Relief Society could be a foreshadowing of the temple ordinances they would later receive and that would qualify and prepare them to receive such.
- Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 464, 617 n. 23 ( Index of claims ); D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 634.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "In the Arms of His Love," Ensign (Nov 2006), 115–118.
- Joseph Smith, "Observations Respecting the Priesthood," A Sermon Delivered on 28 April 1842, from the Minutes of the Nauvoo [Illinois] Relief Society, original in LDS Church Archives; reproduced in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 114. Also in Joseph Smith in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 162-163. Compare with edited versions of these remarks in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 227. off-site and History of the Church, 4:605–606. Volume 4 link
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 137. off-site
- Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
- Newell and Avery, 174; citing Brigham Young statement, 9 March 1845, Seventies Record, LDS Archives
- Newell and Avery, 174; John Taylor, 29 June 1881, LDS Archives
- Eliza R Snow, "A Book of Records Containing the Minutes of the Organization and Proceedings of the Female Relief Society of West Jordan Ward," 12 April 1868, LDS Archives
- Newell and Avery, 109; citing RS Minutes, 18th meeting, 28 September 1842.
- For example, Joseph spoke to the Relief Society on 30 March 1842: "Pres. Joseph Smith arose—spoke of the organization of the society. Said he was deeply interested that it might be built up to the Most High in an acceptable manner—that its rules must be observed—that none should be received into the society but those who were worthy. Proposed that the society go into a close examination of every candidate—that they were going too fast—that the society should grow up by degrees; should commence with a few individuals—thus have a select society of the virtuous, and those who will walk circumspectly. Commended them for their zeal but said some times their zeal was not according to knowledge. One principal object of the institution was to purge out iniquity—said they must be extremely careful in all their examinations or the consequences would be serious. Said all difficulties which might and would cross our way must be surmounted, though the soul be tried, the heart faint, and hands hang down—must not retrace our steps. That there must be decision of character aside from sympathy. That when instructed we must obey that voice, observe the constitution, 2 that the blessings of heaven may rest down upon us. All must act in concert or nothing can be done, that the society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select society, separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy." - Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 110. Compare versions in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 201. off-site; and History of the Church, 4:570. Volume 4 link
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 225–229. off-site See also History of the Church, 4:602-607. Volume 4 link