I begin with my conclusion: I know that God lives, that He is a personal Being, that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son, that the gospel taught by Jesus was taken from the earth and restored through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, whom God called and sent His angels to instruct and empower. In addition, with perfect peace of conscience I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Kingdom of God upon the earth, and that the Book of Mormon is not only heaven-inspired scripture but was given as an evidence of the truth of the great latter-day work of restoration. These things I know by the power of the Holy Ghost—and I am bold to say that I know my witness is true.
I was born and raised in a home where love was the motive force, where gospel truths shone in the behavior of my parents and in the lives of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my brothers and sisters. I have witnessed the exercise of gifts of the Holy Ghost, and have seen and experienced that which could only occur by the power of God. I would not be honest with myself or with others were I to try to rationalize away my experiences, or to explain them away as psychological aberrations, momentary insights, or anything else. I have met and mingled with apostles and prophets, and have known of and felt the power attending their ministries; I have seen their character and experienced their teachings, and, while I have known of their mortal weaknesses, I have never seen anything which caused me to doubt their testimony or their authority. Each experience testifies to the reality of previous experiences, and I stand quite amazed that in spite of my persistent weaknesses the Lord would so constantly reassure my soul of the truth of this great latter-day work
No latter-day prophet is more impressive to me than Joseph Smith. Some thirty years ago I set out to read everything I could find in journals, diaries, letters, memos, newspapers, public documents, affidavits, magazines, books, and elsewhere, that had anything to do with Joseph Smith that had not previously been published at all or published in venues convenient to the average Latter-day Saint. I spent unnumbered hours in the Church Historian’s Office, in libraries public and private, and in the homes of Latter-day Saints throughout the United States and Canada, perusing family memorabilia and materials from ancestors who knew the Prophet Joseph personally. My searches took me into forty-nine of the fifty states, and I developed such a closeness with those early friends, acquaintances, and even enemies of the Prophet Joseph that my wife gently quipped that I seemed to know the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo better than those of my own home ward. The sum total of this search is that I have never read or encountered anything which, when weighed and balanced, has given me cause to doubt the divine authenticity, the divine commission, or the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith (or any of his successors, for that matter).
The character of these early associates of Joseph Smith is readily apparent. They were honest men and women, exposed to the grit and gristle of life, and in spite of the hardship and persecution they encountered because of their testimonies of Joseph’s divine call, they remained true. Their character is evidence of his character. These were men and women who had genuine spiritual experiences—they saw Joseph in dreams and visions before meeting him in the flesh and thus recognized him when first they saw him, for example; multiple hundreds and perhaps more of others were healed of sickness by his administration; others felt his prophetic voice speak of events in their personal lives before those events transpired; others received revelations in his presence and sometimes with him; some saw angels and visions with or because of him; still others experienced miraculous interventions of other sorts. Their experiences testify of the veracity of his experiences, and it is their standout character which enabled them to have those experiences.
Joseph taught that others could have the same experiences which he had, and they did, and they were not fooled by imitation experiences. Benjamin Brown, to illustrate the point, tells of being sick and confined to his bed for some two or three weeks. He was unconscious when Joseph laid hands on his head to heal him. Knowing that critics claimed such healings were only the effects of frenzied imaginations, Brown later asked: “Was it the power of imagination over the body that cured me, when I did not even hear Joseph’s voice, or know that any operation on my behalf was going on, until I found myself well?” He then concluded: “The honest in heart will judge righteously.” In short, he knew his experience was real, and that honest men and women would recognize it as such.
I have collected nearly one-hundred and fifty different accounts of those who were present on the 8th of August 1844, a little more than a month after the Prophet’s martyrdom, when Brigham Young was transfigured and both appeared and sounded like the Prophet Joseph Smith. One such account comes from James Henrie, whose son, years later, challenged the veracity of the experience, suggesting that Henrie was having an illusion of some sort. “James brought one fist down hard into the other hand with a bang and said ‘Illusi—hell! I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. I was not asleep, or dreaming, and I was not alone. We all saw it, and heard it, and felt the Spirit present.’” Henrie knew his experience was real, and was not to be dissuaded by psychological analysis. (And, we might add, the evidential value of nearly 150 people seeing and bearing witness of the same event is monumental—even Biblical in proportion).
These early associates of Joseph Smith examined Joseph for his integrity because they had integrity and knew it was at the center of everything decent and good. It was important to them that he paid his debts—and he did; that he preached on honesty and integrity, which he did; that he kept his promises—which he did; that he required high integrity of his family and associates—and he did; and that they could test his doctrines against his own conduct—which they did. They were subjected to public scorn, opposition, and persecution because they knew Joseph was a truth teller; they were mobbed and driven from their homes, and many even died, because they could trust in the character not only of Joseph Smith but of those he trained to succeed him.
The current leadership studies point to integrity as one of the most desired of leadership traits. The life of Joseph Smith illustrates why.
My testimony of the restoration came because the Holy Ghost has spoken to my soul. But it is ever so nice that the history of the Church, and particularly of the life and conduct of Joseph Smith and those associated with him, bears that same witness and sustains that same claim.
Mark L. McConkie is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he has served as the resident dean. He earned his master’s degree in public administration from Brigham Young University and his doctorate in the same field from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining the School of Public Affairs, Dr. McConkie consulted with BankOne, NASA, the U.S. Navy (NAVSEA), the U.S. Air Force (Special Forces), MCI Corp., Hewlett Packard and others. Professor McConkie’s teaching focuses on organizational change and behavior, leadership, management development, and ethics; his research interests also include the myths and folklore of organizational culture. He has lectured internationally, and has published many articles in professional and scholarly journals.
Professor McConkie is also the author of numerous items on Latter-day Saint teachings and history, such as Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, The Father of the Prophet, Joseph Smith and the First Vision, and Wit and Wisdom from the Early Brethren. His book Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2003) draws on more than eight hundred sources, many of them unpublished. It is accompanied by a CD-ROM that features approximately 2,000 pages of primary source texts from eyewitnesses concerning Joseph Smith and important events in early Mormon history.
Dr. McConkie served a full-time mission in Argentina, and has since served as a bishop, a counselor to the president of the Colorado Denver Mission, and a stake president. He is married to the former Mary Ann Taylor, and they are the parents of nine children.
Posted November 2010