Most of the 12,000 inhabitants of Nauvoo (formerly Commerce) Illinois in 1844 were Mormons led by their controversial leader Joseph Smith Jr. On June 7 of that year a new newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, rolled off the presses. Its primary purpose was to expose what was seen by some disaffected Mormons as the corruption of their prophet.
The publishers charged that Smith was a fallen prophet because of his introduction of polygamy and the doctrine of exaltation, that he was too powerful and had theocratic ambitions and that he was a corrupting influence on young women whom he tried to initiate into plural marriage. Not only had their prophet introduced plural marriage, he also proposed marriage to these men’s wives.
Above the Law
It has been observed that “[Joseph] believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law. Claiming sole responsibility for binding and unbinding marriages on earth and in heaven, he did not consider it necessary to obtain civil marriage licenses or divorce decrees. Whenever he deemed it appropriate he could release a woman from her earthly marriage and seal her to himself or to another with no stigma of adultery.” (Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p.42)
Thus his conduct was, "not adultery because a man could not commit adultery with wives who belonged to him.” (Daynes, More Wives than One, p.202)
Joseph [left] "believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law.” In other words, Joseph considered himself above the law. This is an interesting assertion in light of the Mormon twelfth Article of Faith. “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
Of course there is a higher law that anyone should obey God rather than man. However, such a gross abuse of a gospel imperative is inexcusable. When that dictum was coined (Acts 4:18-20) it was in response to a warning not to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. To excuse the taking of other men’s wives by appealing to a higher authority is perverse.
“When Joseph Smith was alive, his declaration to me was as the voice of Almighty God. Why? Because he had the Priesthood of God on the earth… When the family organization was revealed from heaven – the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to another, ‘Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?’ ‘I would tell him to go to hell.’ This was the spirit of many in the early days of this church…
If Joseph had a right to dictate me in relation to salvation, in relation to the hereafter, he had a right to dictate me in relation to all my earthly affairs, in relation to the treasures of the earth, and in relation to the earth itself. He had a right to dictate in relation to the cities of the earth, to the natives of the earth, and in relation to everything on Land and on sea. That is what he had a right to do, if he had any right at all. If he did not have that right, he did not have the priesthood of God, he did not have the endless priesthood that emanates from the eternal being. A priesthood that is clipped, and lacks length, is not the priesthood of God; if it lacks depth, it is not the priesthood of God; for the priesthood in ancient times extended over the wide world, and coped with the universe, and had a right to govern and control the inhabitants thereof, to regulate them, give them laws, and execute those laws. The power looked like the priesthood of God. This same priesthood has been given to Joseph Smith and has been handed down to his successors.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.2, p.13)
It was these developments, among others, that prompted the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor to publish what they knew of Joseph Smith’s corruption and corrupting influence. That edition of 7 June 1844 was the first and last because Smith had the paper and the presses destroyed.
Claims Beyond Dispute
All this is beyond dispute; Joseph Smith taught the plurality of gods, was a polygamist who pursued young girls, proposed marriage to other men’s wives and gave approval to those who practiced the evil he invented (Ro.1:28-32) So it is interesting to to read how the Mormon Encyclopaedia describes these events:
“The Nauvoo Expositor was the newspaper voice of apostates determined to destroy the Prophet Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the spring of 1844. During the last few months of Joseph Smith's life, an opposition party of disgruntled members, apostates, and ex-communicants coalesced into a dissenting church. The principals claimed to believe in the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel, but rejected what they termed Nauvoo innovations, notably plural marriage. Claiming that Joseph was a fallen prophet, the dissenters set out, through the Expositor, to expose the Prophet's supposed false teachings and abominations. They held secret meetings, made plans, and took oaths to topple the Church and kill Joseph Smith. The publication of the newspaper was crucial to their stratagem…the Expositor 's polemics against the Church and Joseph Smith were threatening and polarizing. The anti-Mormons were exultant about the Expositor, but Church members demanded that something be done.”
The perpetrator becomes the victim, his crimes become “supposed false teachings and abominations”. The dissenters become “apostates”, “ex-communicants”, liars and plotters – anti-Mormons! Anyone who has worked in ministry to Mormons will be familiar with this grotesque caricaturing of critics.
What is also familiar is the wanton destruction of the only organ of free speech that allowed a dissenting voice in Nauvoo to be heard [from the building on the right]. These days, just as did the publishers of the Expositor, ministries use every legitimate means to publish criticism and challenge the claims of Mormonism. Over the past year however a systematic campaign has been witnessed aimed at shutting down such criticisms by reporting even the most reasonable posts and comments on Facebook as “abusive.”
Today, however, it is not nearly as easy to run critics out of town. Social networking and online publishing is a vast landscape with too many opportunities to bring ideas to the public square to be so easily manipulated. Indeed, it is a landscape that Mormons themselves appreciate and here is the rub for Mormons wishing to engage in apologetics with non-Mormons.
The aim of Christians and Mormons alike in this respect is to engage the other in discussion, putting your own point across in the hope of making an impression. One challenges Mormon claims while the other aims at “challenging anti-Mormon apologetics.” But, increasingly, Mormons who do publish on the Internet are talking to themselves. Their target audience, in response to this modern breaking of the presses, is moving on to other means of being heard, using different methods to avoid being targeted by the spiteful and small-minded.
The Encyclopaedia of Mormonism makes this telling observation on the original smashing of the presses:
“That action, justified or not, played into the hands of the opposition. It riled anti-Mormon sentiment throughout Hancock County and provided substance for the charges used by the opposition to hold Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail, where he was murdered on June 27, 1844”
Perhaps modern Mormon iconoclasts should learn from history because theirs is proving a pyric victory as Mormons increasingly fail to engage with their critics and their reputation as enemies of free speech is perpetuated.