A lot of times our FAIR wiki writers are being purposefully brief by featuring the simplest explanation. There is a hope that those who need more nuance and more possibilities explored will take advantage of the additional resources we point to. I like it when those struggling with an intellectual problem think independently about it. When they find their own solution to a criticism that works for them, I encourage them to stick with what works. Sometimes I will speak up if I see that a particular solution is inadequate and perhaps setting up someone for a future fall from encountering a more advanced criticism. An example of the FAIR wiki’s brevity occurs in the page providing talking point answers to 50 soundbyte questions:
1. Why does the Mormon church still teach that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God after he made a false prophecy about a temple built in Missouri in his generation (D&C 84:1-5)
This was not a prophecy, but a command from God to build the temple. There’s a difference. Jesus said people should repent; just because many didn’t doesn’t make Him a false messenger, simply a messenger that fallible people didn’t heed.
Learn more here: Independence temple to be built “in this generation”
Of course even the expanded article doesn’t consider all the possible solutions that can be made. So here is one of my personal speculations I would like to share:
I actually think it is easy (almost trivial) to prove that Section 84 is a commandment. The first publication of a selection of Joseph Smith’s revelations to the early Saints was called the Book of Commandments. The Saints would go to Joseph Smith to obtain a”commandment,” which was their preferred term even over “revelation” or “prophecy.” So each section, 84 included, was primarily a commandment. Hence we have the preface for Book of Commandments stating:
37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
So section 84 is a commandment by definition. The Saints were commanded to build a temple. A question is if it was just a commandment or it was both a commandment and a prophecy. Actually it turns out that this is a distinction without a difference, because if it is a prophecy, its fulfillment is conditioned by a sufficient number of moral agents choosing to obey the commandment and other moral agents choosing not to prevent compliance with the commandment. In other words, agency frequently trumps prophecy. Prophecy is often conditional, whether the condition has been made explicit or not. Prophecy inspires us to see what could be and does not necessarily tell us what has to be. There are exceptions to that rule, as I think God can use his agency to carry out of his promises, especially regarding salvation.
D&C 124:49, 51 makes it clear to me that the Lord withdrew his commandment to build a temple in Jackson county. He accepted “the will for the deed” when he accepted the Saints’ offering. The underlying purpose for building a temple in Jackson County has arguably already been fulfilled. That generation of Saints was not deprived of any temple blessings, they simply built temples elsewhere. I think that after the Saints learned they could not recover their land, the place for the temple became negotiable in the Lord’s eyes. Zion is wherever the Saints gather, sometimes the Saints move to Zion as a designated place and sometimes the place (Zion) moves with the Saints.
If there is any future in conjunction with the temple site in Jackson County, I hope we never put a building there. Why? Because I would rather view dedicated sites there and in Far West as outdoor temples. After all temples are built (at least in part) to symbolize the Garden of Eden which in turn symbolizes heavenly/paradisaical realm(s) where God dwells or visits. I would rather see a Garden of Eden restored. Building a temple there just to more literally fulfill a prophecy would undercut the learning experience that we as a people gained about agency and the persistence of God and his covenant people finding ways to honor (or find a satisfactory substitution for) their promises even after setbacks make the original terms impossible. The atonement enables reconciliation, by allowing for substitutions to be made on our end of the covenant, so why not allow God the same privilege?
I don’t really expect anyone to agree with my take on things. If you asked me a year from now, I might not even have the same understanding. Nibley’s Christian Envy of the Temple gives me pause as I think about the consequences of over-spiritualizing temple elements to compensate for a profound sense of loss. Maybe it is actually a good thing the wiki doesn’t cover all possible speculations ! So I ask, what are some of your solutions to when critics raise charges of false prophecy?