- AN INQUIRY
by Brian C. Hales
One unique aspect of the "Mormon Fundamentalist" movement involves their religious organization and its leadership. In the past this organization was often called the "PRIESTHOOD." However, today, it is more commonly thought of as simply a "church" and in many respects, it behaves like a church.
For example, the two largest polygamist groups seem to function as Churches. In Colorado City we find "The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (FLDS Church). The Allred Group in south Salt Lake call themselves the "United Apostolic Brethren" and behave like a church. Fundamentalist "churches" generally trace their roots back to the PRIESTHOOD organization first described by Joseph Musser in 1934.
The PRIESTHOOD - An Introduction
Joseph Musser (1872-1954) was the first individual to publish information which described the PRIESTHOOD. In his pamphlets, Priesthood Items (1934) and A Priesthood Issue (1948), he defined in print its organization and role.
According to Musser, the PRIESTHOOD (as a presiding religious body) was organized in 1829, one year prior to the Church being organized (April 6, 1830). He believed that the PRIESTHOOD has always existed external (and parallel) to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but that its existence was a tightly held secret until 1934 when Priesthood Items was first published.
Musser's writings discuss the PRIESTHOOD as being a distinct religious organization which presides over all priesthood on earth. Its leadership is comprised of a special COUNCIL of six men, sometimes referred to as the COUNCIL OF FRIENDS or simply "Priesthood Council."
As he described it, members of this COUNCIL are ordained "High Priest Apostles," a calling not previously discussed in any scripture or historical writing. Allegedly it is greater than the apostleship held by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Church.
Musser's writings assert that the senior member of the COUNCIL OF FRIENDS is God's prophet on earth and President of the High Priesthood as described in D&C 107:91.
Joseph Musser also mentioned the importance of seventy High Priest Apostles which comprised the "Sanhedrin" (see diagram) which were somehow related. Congregations and united orders were also included within the confines of the PRIESTHOOD according to Musser's writings.
Musser recounted that the Church of God and Kingdom of God are separate entities and that both are presided over by the PRIESTHOOD organization he was teaching about.
Despite the details provided by Joseph Musser concerning the PRIESTHOOD and its lofty responsibilities, few, if any of the larger fundamentalist groups ascribe to his descriptions. The priesthood calling of "High Priest Apostles" has been totally discarded and the associated COUNCIL OF FRIENDS has also undergone significant modification.
Since 1934, the PRIESTHOOD organization (and "churches") of Mormon Fundamentalism have changed greatly. So also has their perceived relationship to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What do Fundamentalists believe concerning their PRIESTHOOD Organization and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Even different fundamentalists within the various groups will give different answers to this self-defining question. Some confusion seems to exist.
It appears that at least three different doctrines are advanced by Mormon Fundamentalists to describe the exact relationship between their PRIESTHOOD organizations ("churches") and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
1. The PRIESTHOOD is the only true church on earth and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in apostasy.
2. The PRIESTHOOD is a separate organization which has been kept secret until recently. It is specifically commissioned to continue plural marriage irrespective of the activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
3. The PRIESTHOOD is a separate organization which has been kept secret until recently. It is superior to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and should be presiding over it (as Joseph Musser originally asserted - see diagram).
The remainder of this article will address these three beliefs.
Fundamentalist Belief #1 - The PRIESTHOOD is the only true church on earth while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in apostasy.
One important doctrine found in the teachings of Mormon Fundamentalism is the idea that, at some point after 1830 (when the Church was organized), leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have guided the Church into apostasy. This notion, when fully embraced, seems to justify the opposition and criticism launched from some Mormon Fundamentalist camps against the Church.
God Controls Church Leadership
Regardless of what fundamentalists believe about Church leaders, it should be obvious that the Lord controls who is presiding as Church President. The Church President is always the "senior apostle" living upon the earth. Seniority is determined by the timing of their call as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (not upon the date of their ordination to the apostleship). Calls to be members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles come through the Church President.
Church Presidents are released from their callings through death.
Clearly, Heavenly Father controls both the calling and releasing of men who serve as Church President.
Would God Ever Permit His Prophet to Lead the Church Astray?
Since God is in control, is it possible that He would ever permit His Prophet to lead His Church astray? President Brigham Young gave an answer:
"The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother's arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth." (JD 9:289, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 137.)
Wilford Woodruff also echoed this plain teaching:
"[T]he Latter-day Saints throughout Israel should understand that the First Presidency of the Church and the Twelve Apostles are led and guided by the inspiration of the Lord, and the Lord will not permit me, nor any other man, to lead the people astray." (Collected Discourses 2:281-282.)
God Already Knows How His Prophets Will Lead
It makes little sense to believe that God would purposefully call a man to be an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who would then later as Church President lead Church members astray. Heavenly Father knows each of us intimately including any man called to lead His Church. He knows how each of us will respond to challenges and Church responsibilities. How does He know?
Prior to our mortal births, we lived with Heavenly Father for a very long time. Elder John Taylor, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained, "although we came into corporal existence here, we existed thousands of ages before we came here" (The Gospel Kingdom, p. 12; italics added). It is difficult to know how long "thousand of ages" is referring to, but it might equate to millions or even billions of years (see Times and Seasons, 5:758). Elder Orson Pratt, a member of the Twelve Apostles, believed it might have continued for "unnumbered millions of years" (JD 18:290). During this time, the Lord was able to observe our spirituality and inclinations to accomplish righteousness.
In addition, God is not ignorant of the future: "all things are present before mine eyes" (D&C 38:2, see also Moses 1:6). In ways we cannot understand, everything is an eternal "now" before the Lord.
In calling men to lead His Church on earth, the Lord was never choosing individuals He was unfamiliar with. No surprises were/are awaiting Him as He watches and prompts His prophets on earth. We might ask critics of the Church: "Why would our loving Heavenly Father ever call someone to be President of His Church who would subsequently lead sincere Church members down the wrong path?"
Members are Righteous, but not Perfect
Some fundamentalists have suggested that Church members are more interested in material possessions than in the Lord's gospel. This might be true of a few members who possess minimal convictions. Additionally, Church leaders readily acknowledge that Latter-day Saints are not perfect. Church members could be more righteous.
However, the imperfections manifested by Latter-day Saints have never been so severe as to cause Heavenly Father to jettison His Church by giving His Saints uninspired leaders. Divine gifts and inspiration are for individuals who "seek" to keep the commandments (D&C 46:9), to those who "sincerely strive" to do His will (D&C 109:68) and seek to be "followers of righteousness" (Abr. 1:2). This level of obedience has always been present within the Church, thus permitting God to keep true prophets at the helm of His earthly kingdom.
Through the Church, the Gospel "Rolls Forth to Fill the Whole Earth"
In 1831 the Lord revealed:
"The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth." (D&C 65:2.)
Here Heavenly Father compares the gospel to a stone which is destined to "roll forth until it has filled the whole earth." The Lord in 1831 could make that prophesy because He knew every man who would be called to lead His Church until the millennium would be ushered in. God knew how readily every one of His prophets, each serving as Church President in his respective time, would receive revelation to guide His Church.
God could also see current missionary efforts bringing to pass the final gathering, now occurring at an astonishing rate. He could also see these days when temples would "dot the earth" bringing sacred ordinances to Church members in distant lands. The destiny of this Church was plain before the eyes of the Lord.
A simply review of the position of all Mormon Fundamentalist groups today shows that their ideas and "gospel" are not "rolling forth to fill the whole earth." Plainly they are not.
Fundamentalist Belief #2 - The PRIESTHOOD is a separate organization which has been kept secret until recently. It is specifically commissioned to continue plural marriage irrespective of the activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One popular belief found among of Mormon Fundamentalism is the idea that they are a separate PRIESTHOOD organization specifically commissioned to "see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage."
This idea is popular in part because it absolves Mormon Fundamentalists from the need to do anything more than live in polygamous relationships during mortality. The commandments to do temple work and missionary work are shifted to the Church (who is thought to be only partially in apostasy).
The Need For The Keys of Sealing
While many different problems can be identified with this belief, foremost among them is deciding who holds the Keys of Sealing authority. Without the Keys of Sealing, no group or organization (e.g. PRIESTHOOD) can perform legitimate ordinances including marriage. The Keys of Sealing are held by one man.
The Lord has told us: "there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred" (D&C 132:7). The man who holds the Keys of Sealing also presides over all priesthood on the earth:
"Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all.
"Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church;
"Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church." (D&C 107:64-66; italics added.)
This one man is anointed and appointed to hold "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" to "bind on earth [that which] shall be bound in heaven: and [to] loose on earth [that which] shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Without the authority of this one man, priesthood ordinances are "not valid, neither of force" in the next life:
"And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God." (D&C 132:18; emphasis added.)
Obviously Joseph Smith was the first man in this dispensation
to hold the sealing keys. But he is no longer "on the
earth." After him came Brigham Young, then John Taylor and Wilford
Woodruff. In General Conference October 6th, 1890,
George Q. Cannon, who had served as a counselor in the First Presidency to
President John Taylor and was retained by Wilford Woodruff, referred to this one
These Keys have continued within the Church to our day. They are currently held by President Gordon B. Hinckley. This authority is used daily to solemnize monogamist marriages for the living as well as monogamist and polygamist marriages for the dead in our temples.
Fundamentalist Line of Authority
Today thousands of Mormon Fundamentalists will bear fervent testimony that the "one man" is Rulon Jeffs or Owen Allred or some other fundamentalist leader. However, there are important questions as to the line of authority asserted by men such as these. Even in their own literature their teachings are unclear regarding when they believe the Keys of Sealing purportedly left the Church. A review of D&C 84:6-12 and 107:40-52 suggest that we should know something about the line of priesthood succession which we have embraced.
Their line of authority includes Lorin C. Woolley. Believing his assertions is difficult in light of the many contradictions and inconsistencies he taught. Those who wish to believe in Lorin Woolley's claims are encouraged to study his life. Regardless, an insurmountable obstacle appears to be found within Joseph Musser's own journal entries in 1936.
1936: Both John Y. Barlow and Joseph Musser Admit They Do Not Hold the Keys of Sealing
In 1936, questions concerning the authority of leaders John Y. Barlow and Joseph Musser arose in Shortcreek, Arizona. For many months prior to November, 1936, John Y. Barlow, Senior Member of the Council of Friends, had been managing the temporal affairs of the believers there. Some dissatisfaction arose with his leadership, but the believers continued to follow him because they believed he held the priesthood keys and was the Lord's Prophet. On November 8th, several followers approached John Y. Barlow and asked him if he held the priesthood keys which he "answered in the negative":
Thursday Lewis [Kelsch] and I had a personal talk with Bro. John Y. Barlow. We pointed out our fears that under the present set-up the group could not prosper; that there seemed a disposition toward a one man rule; that the present arrangement was not in accordance with the spirit of the action of the Priesthood recently taken, whereby it was advised that Bro. Barlow resign from the Management of the affairs of the group and confine his labors more particularly to the spiritual field; that our work was especially along the line of keeping faith in patriarchal marriage alive, and not in the directing of colonizing. Bro. Barlow was asked if he claimed to hold the keys of Priesthood, which he answered in the negative, saying, however, that he had dreamed of a personage coming to him and handing him a bunch of keys, and leaving without explanation. He did not know that that had any special significance. (Joseph Musser Journals November 8, 1936; emphasis added.)
One week later the inquiry was made to Musser who replied:
That the special mission and labors of the Priesthood group was [sic] to keep plural marriage alive... Stated the Lord had not revealed to him [Joseph Musser] who held the Keys to Priesthood, but that Bro. Barlow, by reason of his seniority in ordination presided over the group. (Joseph Musser Journals, November 13, 1936.)
An examination of the purported line of succession of the keys of sealing from John Taylor to Joseph Musser identifies other significant problems. Without access to the Keys of Sealing, no group or "church" or other organization (e.g. PRIESTHOOD) has authority to seal any kind of a marriage, whether monogamist or polygamist.
Fundamentalist Belief #3 - The PRIESTHOOD is a separate organization which has been kept secret until recently. It is superior to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and should be presiding over it.
Most Mormon Fundamentalists (e.g. the Fundamentalist LDS Church - Colorado City and the United Apostolic Brethren - Allred Group) believe their religious organization has always existed outside of the Church as a secret organization. Church members would quickly point out an obvious problem with the idea a legitimate secret religious organization:
Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church. (D&C 42:11)
Notwithstanding, other problems exist believing that something so important could have been kept so secret until Joseph Musser first mentioned it in 1934.
Was There a Hidden PRIESTHOOD?
Many Fundamentalists believe that the PRIESTHOOD has always existed, but that it was initially hidden from the general membership of the Church. Their teachings hold that it began with Joseph Smith. That is, they believe the Prophet organized two religious bodies: a PRIESTHOOD organization in 1829 and the Church in 1830 (D&C 21).
Allegedly the reason that the PRIESTHOOD is hidden during the early days of the restoration is because the men who initially served as leaders in the PRIESTHOOD organization were also members of the Church. For example, they believe that the Joseph Smith was not only Church President, but that he was also the Senior member of the PRIESTHOOD governing COUNCIL. They believe that when the Prophet was acting as President of the High Priesthood, he wasn't doing it as President of the Church, but as the Senior member of that PRIESTHOOD COUNCIL, a second calling he supposedly held.(0)
Mormon Fundamentalist theology then suggests that from Joseph Smith until the present day, the PRIESTHOOD has been functioning. Purportedly, the inter-mingling of leadership (the Church and the PRIESTHOOD) continued until the presidency of Joseph F. Smith (1901-1918). That is when the PRIESTHOOD's leadership became disaffected and broke away leaving Joseph F. Smith without the guidance of their PRIESTHOOD COUNCIL.
They believe that a man named John W. Woolley (excommunicated in 1914) became the Senior leader of the COUNCIL at that time (which also made him God's prophet on earth). Some will say that the division occurred at the time of the 1890 Manifesto. Regardless, the theory is that when the Church President stopped authorizing new plural marriages to be performed (1904), the PRIESTHOOD organization then broke away from the Church with its own leadership and membership.
Even when it supposedly broke away from the Church (between 1890 and 1914), modern polygamists believe that the PRIESTHOOD remained completely hidden from Church members. It wasn't until 1933 that Joseph W. Musser, a self-proclaimed member of the PRIESTHOOD COUNCIL, wrote concerning this incredibly important entity.
A Secret PRIESTHOOD Organization?
Of course, other questions about the PRIESTHOOD naturally occur. "Where do we learn about its priesthood authority and its duties even today?" In answer to this, both sides readily concede that the scriptures do not specify. Neither can we find any pronouncements from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or John Taylor acknowledging its reality and giving details of its lofty role. Most modern polygamists are unfazed by this fact. They assert that the reason the PRIESTHOOD was entirely unknown during the early decades of the Church was because its secrecy was so incredibly well guarded. This idea of secrecy deserves special consideration.
We know that during the lifetime of Joseph Smith and beyond, several genuine secret groups could be found within the Church. For example, during the Nauvoo period at least three secret councils and groups can be identified:
1. Nauvoo Polygamists
2. The "Endowed Quorum"
3. The Council of 50
("Fundamentalists" would add a fourth group - the PRIESTHOOD.)
1. Nauvoo Polygamists: The Prophet and members of the quorum of the twelve were commanded to enter into plural marriage relationships during the early 1840s. The history of these unions can be found elsewhere. What is important to note here is that these marriages were kept very secret from the general Church population.
2. The "Endowed Quorum": The first temple endowments given in this dispensation occurred 4 May 1842.(1) During the Prophet's lifetime several dozen men and women received their temple ordinances in places such as the upper room of the red brick store in Nauvoo. Some of those involved referred to themselves as being members of the "Endowed Quorum" though it was not a formal "quorum." Their ordinances and names were kept very secret.
3. The Council of 50: The Council of Fifty was formed in Nauvoo in 1843-44. Joseph Smith taught that it would be comprised of fifty men including individuals who were not members of the Church (unbaptized). It was designated to govern the future kingdom of God on earth and was a council generally hidden from Church members. Though it was involved with Joseph Smith's presidential campaign in 1844 and the exodus from Nauvoo in 1845-1846, it appears that it will be far more active at some future day.(2)
These three groups existed in Nauvoo in the early 1840s and their reality was kept secret. Their importance to us is found in the fact that even though they were secret then, we know a great deal about them now.
For example, the issue of Nauvoo Polygamists was the focus of Danel Bachman's 1975 Master's Thesis.(3) Comprising over 350 pages, Bachman provided one of the first well documented discussions of this secret group of Nauvoo Mormons. Since that time, numerous other authors have delved further into the historical records to provide us with additional facts and data.(4) Perhaps one of the best documented publications is the recent In Sacred Loneliness, The Plural Wifes of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton. His 770+ pages provide incredible details in the lives of many polygamist of the early 1840s and beyond.
The "Endowed Quorum" has also been studied, but since it involves the temple and temple ordinances, Church members have largely steered clear of general publication. Nevertheless, Andrew Ehat used this group as a main topic in his 1982 Master's Thesis, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Succession Question." Providing over 700 footnotes, Ehat also has identified at least 70 different meetings of members of this group. He has been able to discern the purpose of their coming together and the respective dates upon which they were held, sometimes even furnishing a description of the activities and duration.(5)
The Council of 50 is no longer a mystery to Church members. While Hyrum Andrus referred to it in the 1950s(6) and later Klaus Hansen,(7) D. Michael Quinn appears to be the very first to write an extensive article concerning it: "The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945" published in BYU Studies.(8) Additional details have surfaced since that initial article.
Other secret groups may be identified after 1844. Perhaps the most impressive involves hundreds of plural marriages which were performed in the Church between 1890 and 1904. Dr. Quinn, Carmen Hardy et al have documented many details regarding these secret unions.(9)
Why is any of this important to us now? The point is that no one, even enemies and friends of the Church has yet to identify any evidence that a additional secret group, the PRIESTHOOD, was functioning during this same period of time. While we know exact dates and times when the other groups met and we even know details of the business transacted, there is nothing to suggest that a PRIESTHOOD organization existed then. There are no diaries containing direct or even obscure references, no records of meetings or priesthood directives, no behind-the-scenes declarations of the PRIESTHOOD's leadership council and important duties... nothing but silence.
More recently Michael Quinn has published his voluminous study of the history of Church leadership: The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power and The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Together the two volumes contain almost 2000 pages with thousands of footnotes. They purport to explore the history of priesthood leadership affecting the Church. Yet, through everything presented, there is no hint or mention of the Woolleys as priesthood leaders or anything else. Neither is there any sign of a PRIESTHOOD organization presiding over the First Presidency or existing outside of the Church.(10)
Some may suppose that Quinn would not want to publish anything that might place the Church in a negative light. However, anyone familiar with those two books, or any of Quinn's later publications will know that devotion to the Church has not been a recent priority. Doubtless he would have publicized anything supportive of a PRIESTHOOD organization or Mormon Fundamentalism if he thought the information to be historically accurate. In the early 1990s he presented a special fireside to the Allred Fundamentalists where he reviewed plural marriages performed between 1890 and 1904. Nevertheless, there was no mention of a presiding PRIESTHOOD organization. Even when directly asked concerning the Woolleys and their alleged ordinations, he was unable to give corroborating evidence. It appears that even D. Michael Quinn, accomplished historian, author and former Church member found only one thing to support the PRIESTHOOD doctrine. It was silence.
Of course silence does not disprove anything and herein lies the strength of the Fundamentalist position. For them, the lack of evidence simply means that early Church leaders (PRIESTHOOD leaders?) were just more successful in hiding the existence of the PRIESTHOOD than they were hiding the existence of Nauvoo polygamists, the "Endowed Quorum," the Council of 50, or plural marriages between 1890 and 1904. Apparently they were much much more successful.
Despite the alleged secrecy of the PRIESTHOOD historically, Joseph Musser and a few other polygamist authors presented evidence to support its existence from the beginning of the restoration.
In 1934, Musser published the first known exposition of
the PRIESTHOOD idea entitled Priesthood Items. In 1948 it was enlarged
and renamed A Priesthood Issue. In that publication Musser compiled
dozens of references to support a continued existence of the PRIESTHOOD
from even before the Church was organized in 1830. Musser presents numerous
incidents where the PRIESTHOOD was supposedly operating.
Key to Sources: CR - Conference Report, DNW - Deseret New Weekly, MA - Messenger and Advocate, MS - Millennial Star, T&S - Times and Seasons, T - Truth.
To this date A Priesthood Issue is still a primary defense and explanation of the PRIESTHOOD. This is understandable became the list of supporting evidences is impressive in length and apparent depth. Nevertheless, it suffers from several significant weaknesses. Even a minimum amount of research is sufficient to demonstrate that many if not most of these references appear to have been taken out of context. Others are at best, tangential. Nowhere in all of these proofs is a clear statement referring to the PRIESTHOOD as an organization. No plain declaration delineating the PRIESTHOOD with its leadership council, membership and duties is provided.
There are other problems with A Priesthood Issue. There is a lack of chronological consistency. Musser skips back and forth between difference incidents occurring years apart. This jumping about appears to strengthen the modern polygamist position but in reality it seems more to cloud the primary issue. Another concern involves the gross inconsistencies in the membership of the PRIESTHOOD leadership which Joseph Musser provides. Allegedly, the PRIESTHOOD's leadership council contains only six men. However, the lists provided by Musser often contain more and great incongruities in purported membership from one alleged meeting to the next. (See the chart listing the alleged personnel in Musser's 15 leadership groups.)
Numerous other problems may be identified in A Priesthood Issue (see The Priesthood of Modern Polygamy). Many fundamentalists already recognize these and consequently discount some of Musser's conclusions.
In Musser's defense we must acknowledge the limitations under which he was forced to research. Unlike historians such as D. Michael Quinn, Joseph Musser had access to relatively few historical sources. He had no computers, neither did he have access to caches of archived papers and documents. Understanding these difficulties, one might be impressed with the result - A Priesthood Issue.
Why Joseph Musser?
The issue of secrecy of the alleged PRIESTHOOD organization begets a few additional questions. If the existence of the PRIESTHOOD was kept so unbelievably secret for over a century, we might ask, "Why was Joseph Musser chosen to broadcast the idea to the entire world?" Obviously this is a lofty responsibility - to reveal to the Church and men and women everywhere the existence of the PRIESTHOOD. Musser appears to have been quite determined to do just that. In describing the PRIESTHOOD with its leadership council and presiding apostles in Priesthood Items (or later in A Priesthood Issue), there is no hint of holding back. Neither is the text tentative in declaring the reality and mission of the PRIESTHOOD. Musser appears to be using all the reasoning forces at his disposal to convince the reader that there has been a PRIESTHOOD functioning from the beginning. He believed that the doctrine was for "general circulation"(11) as he personally made copies (at his own expense) and mailed them to various friends and Church leaders.
But the question persists: "Why Joseph Musser?" Undoubtedly God would have considered the calling and mission to reveal the PRIESTHOOD to the world to have been very important, especially in light of the extreme measures apparently implemented to maintain its secrecy for over one hundred years. Regardless, Musser never suggests that he was divinely commissioned to reveal that which was previously kept hidden from the Church membership (i.e. the PRIESTHOOD). The tone of his publication is one of persuasion, not a pronouncement as prophets give when declaring new doctrine (or revealing things formerly secret).
This is a puzzler. It is even more perplexing as we observe how some modern polygamists completely discount Musser as an inspired leader (e.g. the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ - Colorado City, Arizona). Without Musser's publications and ideas, where do these modern polygamists ("Fundamentalists") obtain descriptions of their religious organization and its purported leadership? Perhaps tradition (secretly maintained). But where and when did those traditions begin?
Who Taught Joseph Musser About the PRIESTHOOD?
Other questions arise. For example we might ask, "Who taught Joseph Musser about the PRIESTHOOD? Ostensibly its mission and authorities were discussed only in private settings. Hence we would naturally conclude that he would have learned about it secretly.
In contrast to the complete silence regarding John Woolley, Musser had much to write in his journal concerning Lorin's ideas and teachings. The first entry is found April 9, 1922. During that meeting, Musser recorded that Woolley discussed over a dozen different topics which comprised several pages in Musser's typed record.(13) Woolley taught the importance of continuing plural marriage and addressed priesthood topics including leadership. He even claimed to have been ordained an "apostle."(14) Throughout it all however, there was no mention of a PRIESTHOOD organization. There were no admonitions for Joseph to join Woolley in any kind of religious entity. Neither was there any reference to a PRIESTHOOD leadership calling ostensibly held by him or his father John W. Woolley. Musser listened to Lorin C. Woolley teach at least five times in 1922 and wrote pages of notes of his teachings, however, nothing is mentioned of the PRIESTHOOD as Musser would later describe it.(15)
Joseph Musser is not the only person who recorded the teachings of Lorin C. Woolley. A few other individuals have compiled "recollections" of Lorin's ideas and stories.(16) Notwithstanding, there is virtually nothing in any of Woolley's teachings to support the idea that Woolley saw himself as the leader of a PRIESTHOOD organization similar to those found among modern polygamists today. It is curious that no polygamist has yet to produce a biography of Lorin C. or John W. Woolley.
So where and when did Joseph Musser learn about the PRIESTHOOD? His personal religious activities suggest strongly that it occurred sometime after the 1920s but obviously before 1933. We would assume it came from Lorin Woolley (John Woolley died in 1928) in a secret setting - so secret that Musser would fail to mention anything about it in his personal journal. However, Musser never claimed to have learned about the PRIESTHOOD from Woolley (or anybody else). In 1942, Musser reflected upon the doctrine and wrote:
I am convicted with the feeling that the Priesthood is one organization and the Church is another, and that Pres. [Heber J.] Grant has jurisdiction in the Church. If I am wrong I pray the Lord to correct me and to assist me in getting back into the proper channel. Up to date, however, in all the reasoning power I have, and listening to the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, I am convinced that I am right. (Journal of Joseph W. Musser, December 28, 1942.)
In this journal entry, Musser ascribes the doctrine of the PRIESTHOOD to "all the reasoning power" he possessed and "the voice of the Spirit of the Lord." Understandably, modern polygamists would prefer to attribute it revealed truths given through the Prophet Joseph Smith and subsequently taught secretly to worthy priesthood leaders.
Another pertinent question involves the timing of this declaration regarding the PRIESTHOOD. We wonder, "Why 1933?"
One obvious reason appears to be that Joseph Musser could not have written about it much sooner because he was completely unaware of the PRIESTHOOD idea in the 1920s. He apparently still sustained Church leaders even after hearing Lorin teach. On January 5, 1923, he recorded in his journal:
Routine at office.
In evening attended meeting at home of Nathan Clark of Bountiful. Several assembled with Bro. Alder, Hansen, Clark, and myself and same splendid sisters. Bore testimony to the Gospel and counseled those present to sustain the leaders of the Church as loyally as possible. (Emphasis added.)
Also, rather than join with Lorin and the PRIESTHOOD, Musser apparently lost contact with him after 1922 since there is no mention of him in his journal until 1928.(17) Nonetheless, Musser did meet with those sympathetic to polygamy a few times between 1922 and 1928, but Woolley was absent and there was no sign of the PRIESTHOOD.(18) When he participated in Sabbath worship, he would usually attend Church at an LDS ward.
1922 was also the year he teamed up with a charismatic fellow named John T. Clark. Clark was a self-proclaimed prophet who professed to be the "One Mighty and Strong" mentioned in D&C 85:7 who was to "set in order the house of God." Clark also declared himself to be "the most literal descendent of Jesus Christ on earth today" and to carry "indian blood in his veins."(19) Joseph Musser wrote in 1922 that he was "deeply impressed with his claims"(20) and while Joseph Musser did not espouse all of the teachings of John T. Clark, he later recorded in his journal: "That he has important work to do, I do not doubt..."(21) To demonstrate his support for John T. Clark, Joseph Musser aided him for many hours(22) as Clark wrote a book titled The One Mighty and Strong.(23) That book contains teachings which contradict Musser's later ideas about the PRIESTHOOD organization.
There were circumstances which might have influenced Musser to write about the PRIESTHOD in 1933. On June 17 of that year the First Presidency of the Church taught that all sealing authority rested within the Church:
The keys of the sealing ordinances rest today solely in President Heber J. Grant, having so passed to him by the ordination prescribed by the Lord, at the hands of those having the authority to pass them, and whose authority has never been taken away by the Lord, nor suspended, nor interfered with by the Church. President Grant is the only man on the earth at this time who possess these keys. He has never authorized any one to perform polygamous or plural marriages; he is not performing such marriages himself... (Messages of the First Presidency,(24) 5:315-330, Truth 16:292-302.)
This clear claim to the sealing keys made by the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placed the polygamists somewhat on the defensive with respect to the issue of authority. If the statement were true, their polygamous marriages "would not be valid, nor of force in the world to come."(25) The issue of priesthood authority was pushed to the forefront in the conflict between the excommunicated polygamists and the Church.
At least two explanations of what happened next are available. Fundamentalists might suggest that in light of President Grant's assertions, the Lord finally decided to unveil the knowledge of the PRIESTHOOD. Musser never made this claim (and for the most part neither do Fundamentalists), but it could justify the publication of Priesthood Items. Of course, Church historians will suggest that President Grant's statement proclaimed a state of authority-bankruptcy for the budding Fundamentalists. Joseph Musser had to respond and the result is the PRIESTHOOD as presented in Priesthood Items (and later A Priesthood Issue).
Regardless, 1933 appears to be the first year that anyone ever wrote or taught about the PRIESTHOOD organization. Publications written in 1932(26) such as the popular A Leaf In Review by B. Harvey Allred (father of Rulon C. and Owen Allred) contained nothing about it. In fact, that book teaches that the First Presidency presides over all priesthood.(27) There is no hint of the PRIESTHOOD doctrine that Musser was to introduce a year or so later.(28) It is interesting to note also that Lorin C. Woolley is quoted as saying that "Every word of [A Leaf in Review] is scripture."(29)
A second volume, Celestial Marriage? written by J. Leslie Broadbent (purportedly next in seniority to Lorin Woolley ahead of John Y. Barlow) in 1927 is also devoid of any reference to the PRIESTHOOD as well.
After all this discussion, several additional questions arise: "Why secret?" Why would God feel the need to make the presiding COUNCIL of the PRIESTHOOD and the Church secret? What is to be gained? How is the cause of Zion improved by hiding the callings of presiding priesthood brethren from even the sincere and devoted Saints? The Lord plainly condemned "secret ordinations": "Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church." (D&C 42:11.)
One easy way to escape a few of these problems is to acknowledge that Musser's theories were wrong on several accounts. Today most everyone discounts the idea of presiding HIGH PRIEST APOSTLES which allegedly hold a higher "apostleship" than that held by members of the Quorum of the Twelve. In addition they ignore Musser's descriptions of the duties of the COUNCIL OF FRIENDS (composed of HIGH PRIEST APOSTLES). Musser taught:
Upon them [Council of Friends] rested the responsibility of bearing the Gospel message to the world... (Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, p. 103.)
No modern polygamist group does this. Missionary work is not performed in any significant degree. Some modern polygamists do serve "missions" for their group, but not to proselyte or preach. They spend two years working and donate all of the money to support the group - 100% tithing for two years.
It almost seems that Musser presented a sort of doctrinal smorgasbord and the different polygamist groups decide individually what teachings and theories they will partake of and which they will discard. This assessment may seem a little harsh, but anyone who has studied the writings of Joseph White Musser will quickly realize that no polygamist or Fundamentalist group today is following his teachings very closely.
What About John Woolley?
Fundamentalist literature is replete with claims that John Woolley was involved with the PRIESTHOOD long before 1933. They suggest:
"When President J[oseph] F. Smith was nearing the end of his life there were no General Authorities left in Church leadership who would help to continue the work he'd been commissioned to carry out, and so that responsibility passed on to Brother Woolley, who became President of the Priesthood in fulfillment of the promise he received as a boy." (No reference is given in Fundamentalist sources.)
The "promise" he received was a vague reference to receiving "priesthood keys." Of course there are many men who hold different priesthood keys (quorum presidents, bishops etc.). However, a man does not need to be President of the High Priesthood to hold them.
The idea that President Joseph F. Smith ever gave John Woolley presiding priesthood keys or that the Church President ever esteemed the elder Woolley as being senior to him in the priesthood is completely unsubstantiated. Fundamentalist apologists are entirely unable to document these claims, except to appeal to secrecy and silence.
It is true that President Smith and John Woolley were friends. John W. Woolley worked as a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple. Woolley claimed that sometime prior to 1914, Apostle Matthias Cowley instructed him to perform polygamous marriages which Woolley later did. On one occasion, John Woolley confided in President Smith that he had performed polygamous sealings by directive of Matthias Cowley. Upon learning of this, President Joseph F. Smith notified Francis Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.(30) A Church Court was held which resulted in Woolley's excommunication. In an attempt to retain his membership, John W. Woolley wrote the following:
At Centerville, Davis County, Utah on the 16 day of January, A.D. 1914, Prest. Francis M. Lyman and Anthony W. Ivins called at my home, and in answer to questions asked I make the following statement:
Some months ago I met Matthias F. Cowley on the street and he asked me if I was familiar with the sealing ceremony. I told him I was. He said, "If any good men come to you don't turn them down." I believed from that statement that it was still proper that plural marriages be solemnized, and that President Smith had so authorized Cowley to instruct me.
Since that time I have married wives to Nathan G. Clark, Joseph A. Silver, Reuben G. Miller, and P.K. Lemmon, Jr.
The ceremony in the case of Miller was performed in the S.E. part of Salt Lake, the woman being a widow whose names I do not know. The Lemmon ceremony was in Centerville, the name of the woman, I think being Johnson.
(sig.) John W. Woolley(31)
Had John Woolley believed that he held special sealing authority or that he was a member of a superior PRIESTHOOD organization, this might have been an opportune time to share that information. Again only silence corroborates the Fundamentalist position.
This is not all. Contemporary documents including letters written by his brothers show that John Woolley was hurt by his excommunication. Neither did he consider himself superior to the Church and even encouraged his brothers to approach members of the Quorum of the Twelve on his behalf to see how he might have his membership reinstated. It appears that the John Woolley of Fundamentalist tradition was a different person from what contemporary documents will support.
The Church President and First Presidency Preside Over All Priesthood
As we noted earlier, it is difficult to convincingly show that any council or organization can exist which is superior to the First Presidency using the scriptures or other prophetic utterances. In D&C 51:14 the Lord promises, "And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived." Hence we might ask, "Has the Lord given us patterns for a Presiding First Presidency or for a PRIESTHOOD organization?" The pattern for a First Presidency can be found in numerous teachings. One example:
Truly Jesus Christ created the worlds, and is Lord of Lords, and as the Psalmist said: `Judges among the Gods.' Then Moses might have said with propriety, he is the `living God,' and Christ, speaking of the flesh could say: -- I am the son of man; and Peter enlightened by the Holy Ghost; -- Thou art the Son of the living God, meaning our Father in heaven, who is the Father of all spirits, and who with Jesus Christ, his first begotten son, and the Holy Ghost, are one in power, one in dominion, and one in glory, constituting the first presidency of this system, and this eternity. But they are as much three distinct persons as the sun, moon, and earth are three different bodies. (Times and Seasons 6:809.)
After Christ's ascension, Peter is found presiding over the First Presidency which was formed:
When Peter, and James, and John went up into the mount with the Savior, Moses and Elias were there; and the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom were conferred upon them, Peter being at the head. -- It is written in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 1], that after he (Jesus) ascended into heaven, he gave commandments, through the Holy Ghost, unto the apostles whom he had chosen, that is, to Peter, James and John, they forming the first presidency of the church of Christ, after the meridian of time. (Messenger and Advocate July, 1835, p. 145. See also George Q. Cannon, JD 22:268-269.)
We see that a First Presidency is the presiding authority in these citations. It is also true in the true Priesthood. In 1857, Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to President Brigham Young stated clearly that no authority existed beyond that held by the First Presidency:
You have got to render an account of everything you have, for we are all stewards. You Bishops, Seventies, High Priests, Elders, Priests, Teachers, Deacons, and members where did you get the Priesthood and authority you hold? It came from this very authority, the First Presidency that sits here in this stand. There was an authority before us, and we got our authority from that, and you got it from us, and this authority is with the First Presidency. Now do not go off and say that you are independent of that authority. Where did you get your wives? Who gave them to you? By what authority were they given to you? Where did you get anything? (JD 4:251; emphasis added.)
In light of these teachings, what would the conversation be if Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or John Taylor were to encounter Mormon Fundamentalists in the Spirit World? Perhaps Joseph would ask, "When did we ever teach you that the priesthood was an organization?" Possibly Brigham would inquire, "When did we instruct you that the priesthood could ever exist outside of the Church?" (See D&C 84:17, 33-34.) Maybe John Taylor would petition, "Why didn't you study and compare the ideas of Lorin Woolley and Joseph Musser to the scriptures and to our own teachings before embracing them?"
It is plain that this brief introduction to the PRIESTHOOD is incomplete. Silence has been used too often as the only support for its existence. Here is an opportunity for anyone who believes in the PRIESTHOOD. The Apostle Peter admonished us saying that we should, "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of hope." (1 Pet. 3:15). For Mormon Fundamentalists, their hope lies in the authority and teachings of their PRIESTHOOD organization. But questions exist to which only they an "give an answer." We would invite them to share their insights.
Verily, verily, I say unto you my servant Frederick G. Williams: Listen to the voice of him who speaketh, to the word of the Lord your God, and hearken to the calling wherewith you are called, even to be a high priest in my church, and a counselor unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.;
2. See Andrew F. Ehat, "It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God." BYU Studies 20 (Spring 1980):253-79 and D. Michael Quinn, "The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945." BYU Studies 20 (Winter 1980):163-97.
8. Quinn, D. Michael. "The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945." BYU Studies 20 (Winter 1980):163-97. See also Ehat's Thesis lists above and Andrew F. Ehat, "It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God." BYU Studies 20 (Spring 1980):253-79.
10. Quinn's conclusions consistently suggest that Church leaders were insincere, manipulative, conniving and generally wearing black hats. This might be harmful to the Church. However, Fundamentalism fairs far worse in that there is no disagreement, but instead total disregard. Its historical claims simply ignored.
17. See Journal of Joseph W. Musser October 16, 1928. Modern polygamists will claim that Musser might have met with Woolley during the period between 1922 and 1928 and just not recorded it in his journal. Musser held Woolley in high regard and wrote a daily entry for most of that period. The detail of Musser's journal included a record of the drilling depths of the oil well he was managing (for example: May 26, 1923) and other activities. It is highly unlikely that any interaction with Lorin C. Woolley would have escaped his record.
To me, John [T. Clark]'s claim's do not ring true in their entirety. That he has an important work to do, I do not doubt, but that he is chosen to lead the people I do doubt. And shall continue to doubt, until at least the Lord shall make his mind and will known to me. (Emphasis added)
This reference strongly suggests that Joseph W. Musser was unaware of Lorin C. Woolley's alleged priesthood calling and the 1886 ordinations as late as June of 1928, even though Musser had been listening to the teachings of Lorin C. Woolley's for several years.
Took typewriter to Kenyon Hotel to assist John T. Clark in preparing a pamphlet on "The One Mighty and Strong" for publication.
This entry was handwritten, while previous journal entries were typed. For days after May 20, the entries continued to be written, not typed, apparently until Musser was able to reacquire his typewriter.
28. It is interesting to observe that B. Harvey Allred approached the presiding PRIESTHOOD "Priesthood Council" in January of 1934 with a response to the 1933 First Presidency's Message that Heber J. Grant held the keys of sealing. Musser recorded on January 22: "We did not favor its publication." Since there was no hint of an external PRIESTHOOD organization in Allred's first publication, A Leaf In Review, one wonders if Allred's response to the 1933 First Presidency's Message agreed with the doctrine being advanced by Musser?