Joseph Smith and a reversion to tribalism

Over this year’s Independence Day weekend, I heard some things through a restorationist church that suddenly helped me peg down one of the things that has just felt wrong to me for a very long time regarding a particular part of Joseph Smith’s teachings.

I think Smith discards part of the notion of the Universality of the Church Christ established and his reclamation of the whole world (making all things new) for a return to Old Testament concepts of Israel-as-promised-land, with specific “chosen people,” as well. He has the pattern of Salvation History short-circuited so that, instead of ever-expanding covenants from One Holy Family (in Adam and Eve) to One Holy Household (Abraham), Tribe (Israel), Nation (Davidic Kingdom), Empire (Solomonic), Universal Church (Catholic Church established by Christ to encompass all of Redeemed Humanity), it falls back into tribalism and territory.

Here is where I get this:

The various sects that follow the Book of Mormon generally have in common an idea that “Zion” is to be the “City of God” established physically on earth, and as Smith taught it, in Jackson County, Missouri (Independence). I’m not really sure anymore how much the LDS hold to this, but the RLDS/CoC and various restoration movement offshoots still hold to that pretty literally.

Following Book of Mormon language and “prophecies,” they also speak in terms of Gentiles and Jews (pointing to BOM passages anachronistically engineered to refer to Christopher Columbus and later the United States–referring to them as Gentiles and Gentile nations). North America is called a “choice land” that has a special purpose, and the aforementioned Jackson County, MO as the “center place,” a specific land territory.

Combine this with what I think was (and is) part of the appeal of Smith’s teachings–a certain particular cultural nationalism, very much akin to the Anglican state church from which he culturally inherited, yet colored with extremely anachronistic language (in the BoM) specifically drawn from the American Revolution.

I have long felt that that particularly American spin on Christianity, brazenly retrofitting it into “scripture,” was part of what made Mormonism a success–the tribal, insular tendency of humanity tends to love this idea that you and your race or culture are special and greater than others. In this case, “American Exceptionalism” institutionalized and made “sacred” in “scripture.”

I will only mention briefly that to this can be added the oft-discussed racism inherent to Smith’s works, which associate skin color with blessings and curses and very much get into supposed Jewish descendents vs. Gentiles, separate races of people, etc.

Throw all this data together and it looks like yet another of Smith’s errors was in discarding the true “New Jerusalem” for a mere earthly rehash of Israel-as-promised-land (physically and literally, just rebranded “Zion” and relocated), with a similar chosen people.

As opposed to the Catholic approach that really and truly, more than any other religion, culture, government, etc, finally overcame tribalism and transcended national boundaries, making all of “Christendom” and recognizing that ALL the world is “Chosen” and set aside by Christ, made new by him. No people is chosen, but all are grafted in. No land is singled out, but the whole world is his Kingdom.

It seems to me, therefore, that** Smith negates Christ’s great universal kingdom and redemptive work, wishing instead to claim it for a small territory and nationalism/tribalism.**

Thoughts? Criticism?

I find it interesting that you posted this today - given today’s Mass readings.

I think you are on to something here.

Joseph Smith had a thing for tribe and ancestry. In his “translation” of the Bible, he added a prophecy of Joseph of Egypt that he would have a decendant named Joseph who would restore the gospel. When I was LDS, I also heard that Joseph Smith claimed descent from Jesus Christ. The LDS church ties their members back to OT times by declaring which of the twelve tribes of Israel the person is descended from. (I’m from the tribe of Ephraim, by the way). Ancestry is very important, especially for those who are descended from the pioneers. Mormons are the chosen ones. They were faithful in the pre-mortal existence and were blessed to be born in these families. People who are not born in faithful Mormon families, by default, were not as faithful in the pre-mortal existence.

Culturally, the LDS church is an insular community. Many members have an “us vs them” mentality and do not trust outsiders. It is not as bad as it was in previous generations, but it is there. Many Mormons have a “tribe” mentality which can cause a lot of family problems when someone leaves the LDS church. Doing so is viewed as a rejection of the “tribe” and family, not only in this life, but for eternity. Families are forever but only if every member of that family is a faithful Mormon.

I think this analysis misses the mark. There are currently some 80,000 LDS missionaries in the world making themselves available to whomever wants to listen to the LDS message. The LDS church is involved in performing vicarious ordinances of salvation for the deceased with the ultimate goal of this being done for every being that ever lived on the Earth. LDS doctrine boldly proclaims that all children who died before reaching the age of reason/accountability will return to the presence of God. The best the RCC can offer is a hope that God will be merciful to those children who died without baptism. The LDS view is very expansive about reaching out to all.

In addition to two capitals (Zion and Jerusalem - Isaiah 2:3) after the Second Coming, LDS belief is that at some point the whole Earth will be sanctified:

Tenth Article of Faith - We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

In the early days of the LDS church Joseph Smith said:

*I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and Kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it…It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world…It will fill the Rocky Mountains. *

I hope this helps.

It hasn’t always been like that unfortunately. Prior to 1978, LDS missionaries rarely, if ever, ventured to areas of the world with significant black African populations. Indeed, this was particularly problematic in Brazil. I remember watching that PBS documentary on The Mormons which discussed (IIRC) how Africans started up their own “LDS” congregations, repeatedly petitioning the LDS church to send missionaries and priesthood, to no avail. Necessary ordinances for eternal life were not available for those of black African lineage.

This contrasts with the Catholic Church, was has always gone to all nations with the fulness of the Gospel, and the Church has never claimed that certain humans do not have access to necessary sacraments. I find that the LDS ideas surrounding the priesthood and temple restriction of blacks is indeed a reversion to pre-Christ ideas and practices, which the OP alluded to when discussing the progressive nature of salvation history and ever expanding covenants, with the most expansive being the one that Christ established Himself 2000 years ago with mankind. While it’s great that the LDS church today now has opened itself completely to all people, the fact that it wasn’t always like that is important when discussing the issue of the universality (catholicity) of the Church established by Jesus Christ.

I don’t see the LDS view as expansive, just the opposite in fact. The after life in LDS thought us downright ugly and constricted with people being separated from those they love in the various “kingdoms” they have achieved. Where people (read women)have to choose who which husband they have loved dearly in life they will spend eternity with exclusively, abandoning one for the other. Children having to choose between eternal mothers and fathers(you know to form an eternal family). Who to pick, the biological father who I vaguely remember loving me to age 6 (because well he died) or the step dad and father of my half siblings who was there for me all through school and the rest of my life. The LDS afterlife is hands down the least connected to the human condition and most dismissive of the connections made in this life that I’ve ever seen.
And this “that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” I don’t think you have a clue about what other churches (let alone the Catholic church) teach about the future of Earth. More than likely because you have been taught over the years a false view of what “apostate Christianity” believes.

Hope this helps.

This :thumbsup:

My LDS sister is in one of these predicaments. Her 1st LDS husband was a dirtbag and she eventually divorced him. A few years later he was excommunicated, so she’s not sealed to him any more, thank goodness. Her 2nd LDS husband (she married him in the temple) was a good enough guy (a widower, so he has 2 celestial wives now) and they got along ok. He died rather suddenly just two years after they wed.

Now my sister, still a TBM, is married to Roger, a Lutheran. Roger has made it very clear that he will never join the LDS, and my sister has accepted that. Roger is great, the whole family (ay least the non-LDS part) loves him. My sister and Roger have a lot of fun together and she is truly in big-time love with him.

She will spend the next 20-30 years living with Roger and loving Roger. But when they die (as she believes) she will be taken away from Roger and given back to the LDS husband she was with for only 2 years. She has no choice in the matter.

And Roger will be in another kingdom altogether. 20+ years of love and marriage gone, invalidated, null.

Mormonism is cruel.

Paul (formerly LDS, now happily Catholic)

LDS “heaven” is a tearing apart of people who love each other, it also has no room for dear friends. And it seems quite a mess this eternal families thing, how could my husband myself and my children all be together as a family if his parents and my parents eternal families require our respective presence. It really makes no sense at all.

I just re-read Gazelam’s post and this struck me as so very sad that hope in God’s mercy is such a low thing among LDS, what a truly terrifying way to go through life.

The best the RCC can offer is a hope that God will be merciful

God Himself is such a low thing in Mormonism. After all, he’s no better than you, just got an earlier start than you did. Just luck, really.

That’s the essence of the Mormon blasphemy. Once you realize it, there is no going back.

Paul (formerly LDS, now happily Catholic)

***“In 1853, nine years after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, missionaries were sent to Africa for the first time, but they only proselyted among the white people of South Africa. It was not until 125 years later, following the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, that the gospel was preached to all people of Africa.”

"However, 30 years before the revelation, Church leaders became aware of other Africans who were interested in the Church. By the 1950s, many letters were sent to Church headquarters from the West African nations of Nigeria and Ghana requesting literature and membership in the Church. The letters were written by devout Christians who had gained a testimony from the Book of Mormon or other Church literature.

What began as a comparative trickle of requests in the early 1950s became a flood by the 1960s. More letters requesting literature were received from Nigeria and Ghana than from all the rest of the world combined (from Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., interview with Gordon Irving, 10 January 1980, Salt Lake City, Church Historical Department). The Church responded by sending literature, but the demand for Church literature was so great that some Africans even established LDS bookstores. However, since there were no priesthood holders to preside and provide priesthood ordinances, those asking for baptism were told, “The time is not yet. You must wait.” "***

speeches.byu.edu/index.php?act=viewitem&id=361

Yep, a reversion. Jesus said go to all nations, The LDS church specifically did not, for most of its history. Thankfully, the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church, always has, and always will.

I think its cruel that the lds god would separate his people in heaven because they didn’t pay enough or worship him enough or because of their skin color.

I recognize the missionary efforts and considered them before starting the thread. Two things: first, when I focus on the sects that follow Joseph Smith/BoM, I am usually focused on the particular expression that affects me most personally–local Restoration Branches (a small conservative remnant separated from the RLDS/CoC in the 1980s). LDS are usually secondary in my thought.

Second, and in direct response to this, that LDS send missionaries and do vicarious baptisms and want to convert the rest of the world does not dismiss their tribalism.

After all, Islam demands the same thing, but we know how extremely tribal Islam is.

I have long seen the spirit that inspired Smith to be very, very similar to the one inspiring Islam, and I think this is just another of those strong parallels.

Consider that Smith/BoM places so much emphasis on “Chosen People” and “Choice Land,” specific physical territories, hereditary descent. Those are strong, exclusionary, us-vs-them (or we’re-better-than-them), tribalistic modes of thinking. They are notably hardly evident at all in Catholicism (the ONLY true “world religion”), and if so, it is usually as a pretty easily-spotted anomaly.

Where Christianity spread out from Jerusalem, once it was confirmed that it was for all the Gentiles in the Council of Jerusalem, ALL racial, ethnic, and national borders disappeared. Though Smith talked a big talk about God not being “a respecter of persons,” in this sense, his teachings were quite the opposite, while the Catholic Church lived and lives the reality of the universal human family.

Another evidence of this can be found in language. Though the Western Catholic Church for a very long time used Latin as its primary language for many practical and geopolitical purposes, the Catholic Church as a whole and from the start never had a sense of requisite language purity, like some of the Jews had (in Hebrew), the Muslims (with the Qur’an “dictated by God” in Arabic), or the BoM, D&C, and JST Bible (practically “dictated” or at least in translation specifically “approved” by God).

Instead, Catholics recognize that God’s Word is not restricted in purity of transmission to a particular language (or translation). His Word is a PERSON. He transcends language, and LIVES the expression of truth in the Church itself (his Body) throughout the world.

Further, analysis of all of Smith’s works reveals very strong anachronisms that are not just elements out of place from the time they were supposedly to represent, but very much related to his particular time, culture, and country. In other words, it’s a uniquely American religion, birthed as much out of the 19th century fledgling country, in many areas explicitly out of the ideas of the Founders and the Revolution, and (especially combined with the Zion territorial mandate) is more a national religion than a truly universal one. Thus patriots love it :slight_smile:

Yet in original Christianity, as founded by Christ, there are no borders, and no longer “Gentile or Jew, servant or free…” You see no promise of or holding on to land or ethnicity. And that’s because Jesus finally accomplished what God intended: he Redeemed all of humanity, and all of Creation. ALL nations are now the “Chosen people,” ALL the earth is now the “Chosen land.”

That’s vitally important; it’s the only way humanity can rise above its brutality and hate; the only way Christianity can be spread successfully to the whole world; and it is the solidarity and love for ALL humanity (without singling any out for special favors) that our world sorely needs.

Regardless of the number of LDS missionaries, they are bringing people to a particular tribe. Mormons believe that they are adopted into one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and are told which particular one when they receive their patriarchal blessing. A type of blessing/fortune meant to reveal their future.

A truly great post. Arandur.

Paul (formerly LDS, now happily Catholic)

Thanks. I appreciate the community here for the incredible depth of knowledge you and others have offered, and to bounce ideas off of. I do also like criticism, however, of deficiencies in my reasoning. I don’t want to use arguments that are not sound, or take them further than they merit. I am not as well-studied as many, but have usually found that you don’t need comprehensive knowledge of a subject to stand back and consider the logic and implications of a case or an argument based on the information available. So I don’t usually get bogged down in Bible-scholar-style Scripture quotation or quibbling over words like FARM.

In this case, I think I see a pattern that both works distinctly against the BoM-believing sects and further validates the Catholic Church.

I did forget to complete a thought in the last post, regarding language. Smiths works imply a divine stamp on his English writings, and that is how it relates to the Muslim view of the Arabic Qu’ran and some Jewish views of “pure” Hebrew Torah–and how it relates to this ethnic (American) tribalism. The BoM (the “most correct book”), D&C, and JST Bible at least (if not the BoA, PoGP and some others) are basically supposed to include divine dictation in English.

The Catholic understanding of Inspiration in Scripture does not require God’s dictation word for word in a particular language. Rather it is “Spirit-breathed” through the instrument of the human author, who naturally applies his own cultural, linguistic, historical context (and some of his own understanding). It’s a more universal approach, transcending ethnicity.

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