Today, the number of men and women practicing plural marriage
probably exceeds the number doing so at the time of the 1890 Manifesto.
The various polygamist groups have persisted through the years in the inter-mountain
area and beyond. Some of the new adherents forsake The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints as their misguided feelings induced them to
join their "work" and enter into the "principle." A survey of the relatively
recent expansion of modern polygamy might cause one to ask why such a movement
continues to exist, despite problems with priesthood sealing authority.
Possible reasons could include:
1. Fundamentalism presents an enduring theology
2. The numerous inconsistencies of Fundamentalist priesthood doctrine are shrouded in secrecy
3. The divine admonition to pray and study.(429)
is short-circuited due to the lack of a accurate histories of Fundamentalist
Let us examine these ideas a little more closely.
FUNDAMENTALISM PRESENTS AN ENDURING THEOLOGY
Fundamentalism today offers an impressive body of distinct theological tenets that exemplify the philosophies of men like Joseph W. Musser and Lorin C. Woolley mingled with scripture. As has been shown in the past eleven chapters, these men were the main creators of the priesthood doctrines now espoused by thousands. Musser himself attributed his idea of the external Priesthood to "all the reasoning power he possessed" and "the voice of the Lord" as he heard it.(430) This admission exemplifies the recent origin of many of these important doctrines.
Notwithstanding Musser's extensive utilization of his
own "reasoning power" as he formed the ideas he promoted, his religious
teachings and those of other Fundamentalist writers are impressive on several
1. A superficial analysis of Fundamentalist literature gives the appearance of internal consistency.
2. The sheer volume of proposed supporting evidence is significant.
3. Sincerity is portrayed along with a confident attitude.
4. Accounts, such as that composed in 1929 about the purported
1886 activities include many details.
The sheer volume and apparent internal consistency of Fundamentalist priesthood doctrine compel many investigators to adopt its ideas without examining them too closely. Joseph W. Musser was a creative and determined supporter of plural marriage. His many efforts resulted in the publication of a large volume of literature which support the practice of modern polygamy.
One significant contribution to the doctrine of the external
Priesthood Musser made is found in a 1934 publication, Priesthood Items.
Later he expanded his ideas in a popular pamphlet entitled A Priesthood
Issue which has been reprinted many times and is still available today.
An appendix to this chapter contains a Study Guide which lists chronologically
the 50 events and quotations that Musser compiled to support his priesthood
theories. The page numbers for the references in A Priesthood Issue
are listed on the left. The reader may wish to "study" the citations further
and "ask God if it be right." Musser listed a few additional evidences
in publications such as Supplement to a New and Everlasting Covenant
of Marriage and various issues of Truth magazine. However, the
bulk of his support is found in reprints of A Priesthood Issue.
SINCERITY OF WOOLLEY AND MUSSER NOT QUESTIONED
Anyone familiar with the works of Lorin C. Woolley and
Joseph W. Musser would be impressed with the sincerity of these men as
they promoted the ideas they believed were true. The question arises regarding
how they might have been misled concerning the external Priesthood, a Council
of Friends, or High Priest Apostles. In the case of Lorin Woolley, the
probable explanation can be found in the 1929 statement of the purported
1886 activities. In that statement, Woolley admitted:
Many of the things I forgot, but
they are coming to me gradually, and those things that come to me are as
clear as on the day on which they were given. (Supplement p. 60.
See the appendix to chapter four.)
In 1929, Woolley would have been 73 years old.(431)
He concedes that he had previously "forgot" many of the things he was teaching.
To forget something and then to later remember it may be akin to fabricating
something that you believed to be true, but that may never have happened.(432)
Woolley's betrayed memory is the likely source of the 1886 ordinations.
As has been pointed out, no other primary witnesses exist and the lives
of the men supposedly involved are strong testimonies that the ordinations
Joseph W. Musser was a faithful supporter of plural marriage.
His faith and determination to continue his cause are admirable. Unfortunately,
he failed to understand:
Musser exhibited great faith in the doctrines he developed
and proceeded on his self-appointed course with great velocity. Despite
his faith, efforts and accomplishments, the Truth remained with the Lord's
anointed within the Church. In 1935, he reflected on his rationalization
for the continued focus of his energies and faith in his journal:
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...
(Journal of Joseph W. Musser, March 11, 1935.)
It is true that Joseph Musser and some of his followers were expending a great deal of energy in their efforts to live plural marriage. However, respecting the observance of the Lord's commandments, Musser was keeping them in his own way, not the Lord's. Musser assumed that his efforts were divinely approved because he was trying, again in his own way, to follow our Heavenly Father because "no good father will permit his children to go far astray." Musser also apparently felt that he and his followers were the only children of God who wanted "to do right" since God apparently let everyone else but him and his followers "go far astray."
Joseph W. Musser chose his course and pursued it with
vigor. He, with the help of a few others, produced an ideology mingled
with scriptures and quotes of priesthood leaders which has influenced many.
It is truly unfortunate that a man of his talent and ambition chose, at
a relatively early age, to attempt to "steady the ark"(433)
and, almost single-handedly, set the Church on a course he thought was
PRIESTHOOD DIFFICULTIES ARE SHROUDED IN SECRECY
Many Fundamentalists are aware of some of the problems
associated with their claims to priesthood authority. The author of The
Notes, a popular pro-Fundamentalist volume, has written:
When Brother Joseph W. Musser wrote
articles defending and explaining Priesthood in the last day, he also gave
hints, perhaps more specific hints, but upon closer scrutiny it is found
that although his writing led the mind along a path closer to the keys,
he yet did not reveal those things that were not to be found in the written
record and unbelievers were not hard pressed to find the straw contained
in that purposeful creation... (The Notes pp. 423-424.)
Notwithstanding the 602 pages which comprise Robert R. Openshaw's The Notes, the question of the succession of the Keys of the Priesthood is excused in three paragraphs (less than a page) in the name of secrecy.(434) It is likely that Openshaw realizes the stark deficiencies in Musser's doctrines and deliberately avoids defending them.
Even more recent volumes, such as Rulon C. Allred's Treasures of Knowledge have been edited to avoid any frank discussion of the Priesthood.(435) The compilation of the sermons on Leroy S. Johnson contains little information on Fundamentalist priesthood doctrines.(436)
Joseph W. Musser possessed a high opinion of his doctrine
of the external Priesthood, the Council of Friends and High Priest Apostles
which motivated him to proclaim his ideas far and wide. In 1934, after
completing his publication Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant
of Marriage which included a chapter explaining his Priesthood ideas,(437)
Joseph Musser extracted that chapter and expanded it and then republished
it as Priesthood Items. His journal recorded in his own handwriting:
July 26, (Thu.) - Monday gave order to Printer for 2000 copies of Priesthood Items and statement of Lorin C. Woolley for general circulation.
August 3, (Fri.) - Last Sunday mailed about 1200 "Supplements" and Priesthood pamphlets to Gen. Authorities, President of Stakes, and Missions, Bishops. Etc. By Wednesday some 1000 copies mailed out.
Sept. 2, (Sun.) - In a re-reading
of our Booklet - The Supplement - today, I find nothing I would wish to
change, except that some points might be amplified some. God inspired
the writing of that book - it is the word of God to his people, and it
will stand as such. [Underlining by the authors]
Musser felt so strongly that these topics should be discussed that he personally sent copies of his priesthood theories to all General Authorities etc. at his own expense. His doctrines of an external Priesthood, a Council of Friends, and High Priest Apostles were expounded in these two publications. Certainly Musser would disagree with anyone trying to dismiss a discussion of his priesthood doctrines claiming they were not to be revealed or to be "found in the written record."(438)
The September 2, 1934, journal citation listed above records that Musser believed his book The Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage was "the word of God to his people" and would "stand as such."(439) It is difficult to relate these assertions and the actions of Fundamentalist prophet Joseph W. Musser with any attempt to shroud a discussion of Musser's Priesthood as being too secret to talk about.
The Lord promised:
And again, I will give unto you
a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived... (D&C 52:14.)
Inquirers might ask: Where is the "pattern" of an external
Priesthood, a Council of Friends, or the office of High Priest Apostle?
The lack of any historical or scriptural evidence for these entities should
not be interpreted in terms of "secrecy." The real explanation appears
to be related to the fact that they were created a century after The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized.
PRAYER AND STUDY ARE SHORT-CIRCUITED
Since the 1930's, multiple Fundamentalist authors have repeatedly published their beliefs. Many volumes have been dedicated to the theme that plural marriage is still required of the Latter-day Saints today. In contrast to those publications, few authors in or out of the Church have pursued a more objective analysis of the historical evidences. Several books have appeared whose approach is so anti-Fundamentalist that their authors have been less-than-honest in compiling and analyzing the historical data. Such methodology renders them less useful in determining the truth about the origin of modern polygamist priesthood authority. While the authors of this publication admit conviction concerning the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is hoped that even the Fundamentalist believer will gain new insights from the evidences presented herein and prayerfully consider them.
It is likely that because of the paucity of critical studies
of Lorin C. Woolley, Joseph W. Musser and their priesthood claims, that
many present-day polygamists have done little more than read their teachings
and then immediately began praying about their truthfulness. However, the
Lord has commanded that we do more than pray:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall
have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall
cause you to forget the thing which is wrong. (D&C 9:7-9.) [Underlining
by the authors.]
Since most Fundamentalist authors have so carefully avoided
the topic of priesthood authority and its history in the past, "studying
it out in your mind" has been very difficult. One Fundamentalist suggested:
Since when has the Lord's injunction
to "study it out in your mind" meant search for proof through every obscure
source you can possibly find, be careful not to miss anything, and "then
ask me if it be right?"... if your interpretation of "study it out in your
mind" is correct then only historians and scholars can have testimonies.(440)
Under special circumstances in the past, individuals have
been blessed with testimonies without having to follow the admonition to
"study it out."(441) Nevertheless, the
Lord has instructed that "For of him unto whom much is given, much is required"
(D&C 82:3) and "when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise" (D&C
82:10). Could it be that the Lord requires us to do even a little research
into the teachings of Lorin C. Woolley and Joseph W. Musser before we petition
Him concerning the validity of their claims? Simply reading their accounts
and praying "short-circuits" the command to study it out. We recall that
in the last days:
For there shall arise false Christs,
and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that,
if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.(442)
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them,
I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Ibid.
Is it possible that "the very elect" who were deceived
are those who failed to follow the Lord's directives to study the words
of men before praying about them?
IF YOU STUDY, YOU WILL JOIN US
Many Fundamentalists believe that all a sincere investigator
must do is prayerfully study their theology and then they will somehow
come to know that their particular polygamist sect is the only religious
group on earth commissioned and authorized to continue plural marriage
today. It is likely that this attitude has persisted because there has
been relatively little historical information available regarding their
priesthood authority and the evolution of their Priesthood doctrine. The
irony of the belief that "most people who study Fundamentalist theology
will eventually become polygamists" is that it has been almost impossible
to actually "study" Fundamentalist priesthood doctrines. This is partly
because the control over available journals and evidence has been so effective
in making only selected sources accessible.(443)
THE DESIRE TO SACRIFICE
One additional element in evaluating the relatively large numbers of people participating in modern polygamy deals with their obvious desire and willingness to sacrifice for the Lord. It is likely that most Latter-day Saints would engage in just about any sacrifice if they were convinced that the sacrifice would guarantee eternal life. It is possible that a member might feel that his or her attempts to keep the commandments emphasized by Church leaders, which require perfection, is somehow insufficient. Some may desire additional security through making sacrifices more visible to the Lord, like living the principle of plural marriage.
One of the authors was personally criticized by a leader
in the Allred Group for addressing the topic of priesthood authority. The
Fundamentalist leader felt it would have been much more appropriate to
write about his followers in this fashion:
Today's Fundamentalists pledge a
deep loyalty to the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.
Although they admit there are challenges to their claims of religious authority
to practice their beliefs, they do feel confident that their position is
consistent with Joseph Smith, and live with the assurance that were he
to be among them today that he would recognize them as the only people
who are living his style of Mormonism.(444)
It is likely that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or John Taylor would be impressed with the sincerity and discrete separation from the world that modern polygamists attempt to maintain. However, they would also be amazed at the priesthood doctrine that has been contrived from their teachings. Their questions would include: "When did we ever teach you of a Council of Friends, an external Priesthood organization or High Priest Apostles?" "Where did these ideas come from?"
Even if polygamists were the only ones living Joseph Smith's
"style of Mormonism," that would not authorize them to perform plural marriages.
Without the proper priesthood authority, modern plural marriages "are not
valid, nor of force in the world to come" irrespective of the sacrifice,
lifestyle or sincerity of those entering into the marriages.(445)
THE SELF-APPOINTED GUARDIANS
Most modern polygamists realize the importance of utilizing
the Keys of Elijah to seal their plural marriages. The Lord requires the
proper authority to be used in sealing eternal marriages and therefore,
anyone believing in marriage for time and all eternity, must evaluate whether
that marriage is "sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom
[the Lord has] anointed and appointed unto this power."(446)
The modern polygamist movement did not grow as a living branch, preserved by the Lord, on a sickened tree. Rather, it sprouted as wild flowers in a vacant field. While their borrowed light may presently sustain them, the heat of the day is yet to come.
Key to Sources: CR - Conference Report, DNW - Deseret New Weekly, MA - Messenger and Advocate, MS - Millennial Star, T&S - Times and Seasons, T - Truth.
435. This admission was made by a son of Rulon C. Allred who assisted with the editing of the two volumes. The authors feel that several of the items Rulon C. Allred taught contradict Joseph Musser on important priesthood doctrines such as the presiding function of the COUNCIL OF FRIENDS (JWM in Truth, 9:169 with RCA in Gems, 1:4-5), the keys imparted with the purported 1886 ordinations (JWM in A Priesthood Issue, p. 25 with RCA in Gems, 1:9-10), the Office of Presiding Patriarch (JWM in A Priesthood Issue p. 20 or Priesthood Items p. 16, with RCA in Treasures of Knowledge, volume one, page 104-105) and Wilford Woodruff and the 1890 Manifesto (JWM in A Priesthood Issue, p. 25 with RCA in Gems 1:3). Notwithstanding the adamant denials by certain Fundamentalists, Joseph W. Musser and Rulon C. Allred taught very different doctrines with respect to the Priesthood and its presiding offices and authority.
438. At the trial of Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young referred to the "unwritten keys" which were associated with ordinances of the temple (Times and Seasons, 5:667). Some Fundamentalists authors have unsuccessfully tried to squeeze their PRIESTHOOD organization, COUNCIL OF FRIENDS and High Priest Apostles into the "keys" that were not to be written.
439. Contrast the previous evaluation from Robert Openshaw (in The Notes) that Musser's teachings on the PRIESTHOOD constituted "hints... yet did not reveal those things that were not to be found in the written record."
443. When one of the authors requested to obtain a copy of the personal journal of Joseph W. Musser, he was told by a Fundamentalist that the journal was not available because of the sacred things it contained. As has been shown, Joseph Musser recorded many important items in his journal that are useful in understanding the "evolution" of the priesthood doctrine within the modern polygamist movement.
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