Wednesday, July 10, 2013

President Hinckley - The Keys of the Kingdom

When the Mark Hofmann drama took place I was too young to appreciate how the church handled the situation and responded to his confrontational documents. While I had heard of the counterfeit artist in my youth, it wasn't until the mission field when I first encountered issues surrounding his forgeries. A friend from home had actually written me a letter wanting to know about the "white salamander" that Joseph Smith allegedly saw. This supposed vision was based on a letter from Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps that Mark Hofmann had forged in 1984, intimating Joseph's occult practices (money digging, etc.), and included a replacement of Moroni with a white salamander. Of course the letter was fraudulent with no basis in history or reality and should have been buried years previous, but of course these types of absurdities occasionally rear their ugly heads. The letter was the forger's attempt to tie Joseph Smith more closely with the occult, since a salamander in the 1820's could refer to a "mythical being thought to be able to live in fire." This was one of a number of documents that Hofmann concocted.

Three years previous to the white salamander letter Hofmann had forged a blessing supposedly given by Joseph Smith, Jr. to his son Joseph Smith, III. The contents of this letter demonstrated that the prophet's son would succeed him in church leadership, which would seem to be a devastating blow against Brigham Young and the Apostolic succession of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What amazes me in all of this is the way that the Church responded to such confrontational issues. Before they were aware of the forgeries, the Church purchased Hoffman's documents. Critics like to impose a straw man argument here by pretending that a true prophet would have had no difficulty in recognizing a forged document, and by failing to do so the implication is that church leadership were composed of false prophets. Of course this fallacious approach (assuming infallibility and omniscience) in understanding a prophet's role is demonstrative of their lack of spiritual experience and maturity. Latter-day Saints who sustain the prophets realize that the Lord provides inspiration and revelation, but not on all things, nor at our convenience. Saints must follow the light that the Lord provides and revelation is typically received subsequent to our trial of faith.

The General Conference address given by President Gordon B. Hinckley in April 1981 is astounding to me for its remarkable and thoughtful insight in response to the forged Joseph Smith III blessing. This conference talk is one of my all-time favorites because it demonstrates, to me, the spirituality and insight given to the Lord's anointed through revelation, exemplified in this scenario in dealing with a controversial issue laden with adverse implications. President Hinckley addresses Joseph's various potential successors and emphasizes the charge given to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in connection with their responsibility to succeed the restorational prophet.
You can read the discourse online here. Note: Andrew F. Ehat's Master's Thesis (December 1982) advances some of the points raised by President Hinckley (then a Counselor in the First Presidency) to a level incorporating temple rites, which further solidifies the position of Apostolic succession. His Thesis, entitled Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question also includes discussion of the Joseph Smith III blessing, and the overshadowing significance of temple rites in Mormon Prophetic authority.


  1. So, what did the RLDS Church give the LDS Church in return for the letter?

  2. I wish I knew! I think it was around this same time, however, when Robert J. Matthews was given access to the OT1 and OT2 manuscript of Joseph's translation of the Bible, although I'm not certain on that. Maybe access to, or copies of these documents were given in consideration? It would be interesting to find out.