Can Sincerity, Tradition, and/or Personal Revelation Eliminate the Need for Authorization from the "One" Man Holding the Keys of Sealing Mentioned in D&C 132:7, 18, 19?
Currently, many Mormon fundamentalists seem to believe that living a plural marriage lifestyle is the “fullness of the gospel” and generally, living that lifestyle is what God requires in order to obtain exaltation. For man of them, issues of proper authority are less important. Three factors seem to shore up their confidence that their efforts and sacrifices are accepted by God, even if the source of their sealing authority is uncertain.
First among these is sincerity. Fundamentalists sometimes assume that in light of their sincere and intense desires to serve God, He would not allow them to go astray. Joseph Musser displayed this feeling in a journal entry March 11, 1935: “Those of us who feel the need of more definite direction from the Lord should take courage in the feeling that since we have dedicated all unto God, and are executing all our energies to keep his commandments, the Lord must be pleased with our course, else he would set us right; no good father will permit his children who want to do right to go far astray...”
Musser’s opinion seems to reflect a bit of naivete, believing that sincere desires and dedication would automatically shield him and his fellow polygamists from deception. Throughout the world today we find seemingly sincere individuals following diverse gods and theologies. So too among Mormon fundamentalists themselves.
Perhaps Musser forgot that there are unseen forces all around us striving to deceive sincere people. The apostle John warned: “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath” (Revelation 12:12). LDS scriptures teach that Satan “maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about” (D&C 76:29); Satan “goeth up and down, to and fro in the earth, seeking to destroy the souls of men” (D&C 10:27) and caution: “Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you” (D&C 50:2-3; see also 46:7, 52:14). Falsehoods can be espoused with the same level of sincerity as truth can be embraced.
A second prominent element is tradition. Each of the fundamentalist factions possesses a powerful tradition regarding the past and present identity of who holds the proper authority to seal eternal marriages. Of course, these traditions, though embraced by hundreds or thousands of individuals, lead their followers to several different men, each esteemed as the “one” holding the keys.
Such traditions are strong enough to neutralize plain historical evidences. In 1936 John Y. Barlow “was asked if he claimed to hold the keys of the Priesthood, which he answered in the negative.”1 A week later Joseph Musser, next in seniority in the Priesthood Council confessed, that “the Lord had not revealed to him who held the Keys of the Priesthood.”2 Nevertheless, before and after these remarkable admissions, thousands of followers have testified that Barlow and Musser did indeed hold the priesthood keys creating a rugged and resilient tradition within the movement.
The third component is personal revelation. Almost everyone in the various fundamentalist groups claims to receive intense personal revelations and sometimes even visions and other extra-worldly manifestations. These personal revelations often guide the receiver directly to fundamentalist practices including polygamy. Indeed, independent fundamentalist Ogden Kraut shared his belief that God today might “reveal to a man and a woman that they are to be joined” in polygamy implying that personal revelation alone might authorize a plural marriage.3 Yet so many different revelations have been claimed, ushering recipients in a myriad of directions.
Throughout the last century, numerous men in the realm of Mormon fundamentalism have claimed revelation from God to proceed contrary to the directives of the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Names include Moses Gudmundson, John T. Clark, Lorin Woolley, J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow, Joseph W. Musser, Elden Kingston, Francis Darter, Leroy Wilson, Leroy Johnson, Rulon Jeffs, Rulon C. Allred, Owen Allred, Alex Joseph, Marion Hammon, Frank Naylor, Robert C. Crossfield, Maurice Glendenning, Gerald Peterson, James D. Harmston, Ben, Ross, Joel and Ervil LeBaron, Addam Swapp, Tom Green, Ron Lafferty, Brian David Mitchell, Samuel Eastman, Paul Feil, John Bryant,4 Elden Hollis, Sherman Russell Lloyd, Frank Miller, Ted Jessop, and Art Bulla.5
President Brigham Young encountered individuals who received visions and revelations that were different from those he received. How did he respond? With tongue-in-cheek he remarked: “I say to such persons, Go ahead, and get all the revelations you can. If brother Joseph visits you every night, go ahead, and tell him to bring brother Hyrum, father Smith, Don Carlos Smith, St. Paul, Peter, James, and John, and Jesus Christ, if you can induce him to do so.” Then President Young explained:
I have had men come to me and tell the wonderful great dreams and visions which they have, when those very persons have apostatized heretofore, have denied their God and their religion; and I knew it. Many come to me and tell me what wonderful visions they have – that their minds are open to eternal things – that they can see visions of eternity open before them and understand all about this kingdom, – many of whom have at some time been guilty of betraying their brethren.6
How did Brigham Young personally react to their claims? He said: “I never notice them much. I sit and hear them talk about their wonderful knowledge, but it passes in and out of my ears like the sound of the wind. It is for me to see to this kingdom, that it is built up, and to preserve the Saints from the grasp of the enemy. The visions of the class I have mentioned are nothing to me. They may exhibit their great knowledge before me; but when they have done, it is all gone from me.”7 It appears that receiving personal revelation is not the key. But receiving personal revelation from the right Source is paramount.
In review, it seems that some Mormon fundamentalists may reflect a confidence that their sincerity, their traditions, and their personal revelations are sufficient to overcome any problems that might exist regarding proper priesthood authority and keys.
3 Kraut, Holy Priesthood, 6:290.
4 Concerning the John Bryant group, Robert Black shared: “They were highly spiritual. They would have meetings where the Prophet Joseph Smith would appear. They were operating in 1978. They received much revelation. Much prophecy. But they were mostly known for their deviant sexual temple ceremonies... They perform every possible deviant sexual ceremony that is known to man and call it a temple ceremony.” (Email communication March 22, 2004.)
5 See Kraut, One Mighty and Strong, paperback, 92-100; Shields, Divergent Paths, 9-13.
6 JD 5:352, October 25, 1857.