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The Subjects of the Kingdom
But what of the Mormon people? How can such leaders, directing the Church to purposes that have become so cruel, so selfish, so dangerous and so disloyal - how can they maintain their power over followers who are themselves neither criminal nor degraded? That is a question which has given the pause of doubt to many criticisms of the Mormon communism of our day. That is the consideration which has obtained from the nation the protection of tolerance under which the Prophets flourish. For not only are the Mormon men and women obviously as worthy as any in the United States: there is plainly much of community value in their social life; there is manifestly a great deal of efficiency for human good in their system and in the leadership by which it is directed; and this good is so apparent that it appeals easily to the sympathetic conscience and uninformed mind of the country at large.
Let me try, then, to exhibit and to analyze the causes that keep such a virtuous and sturdy people loyally supporting the leadership of men so unworthy of them that if the people were as bad as the ends to which they are being now directed, modern Mormonism would be destroyed by its own evils.
In the first place, the average Mormon chief is sincere in his pretensions and self-justified in his aims. Usually, he has been born, in the Church, to a family that sees itself set apart, in holiness, from the rest of humanity, as the direct heirs of the ancient prophets or even as the lineal descendants of Christ. From his earliest age of understanding, he is taught the divine splendor of his birth and impressed with the high duties of his family privilege in being permitted to bear a part in preparing the earth for the second coming of the Savior. He is taught that, though all the world may be saved and nearly all the people of this sphere will in some eternity work out a measure of salvation, he and 143,999 others are to be a band of the elect who shall stand about the Savior, on Mount Zion, in the final day.
He is taught that, next to Christ, Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith, has performed the largest mission for the salvation of the world; that in the councils of the Gods, when the Creator measured off the ages of the human race on this earth, to the Savior was apportioned "the meridian of time," and to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, was given the "last dispensation," which is "the fullness of times," in order that the world, having apostatized from the atonement and the redemption, might be saved to heaven by Joseph, "the Choice Seer."
He is taught that the disciples of the Mormon Prophet are literally the disciples of Jesus Christ; that the laws of right and wrong are within the direction and subject to the authority of the Prophet, to be changed, enlarged or even revoked by his commandment; that all human laws are equally subject to his will, to be made or unmade at his order; that he can condemn, by his excommunication, any man or any nation to the vengeance of the Almighty here and hereafter; and that he can pronounce a blessing upon the head of any man, or the career of any people, by virtue of which blessing power shall be held in this world righteously and the man elevated to sit at the right hand of God in the world to come. He is taught that the greatest sin which can be committed - next to the denial of Christ - is to raise hand or voice against "the Lord's anointed," the Mormon prophets. And, for morality, he is taught from his infancy, that he must scrupulously practice those special virtues of his cult, industry, thrift, purity (except as in later life he shall be inducted into the practice of the new polygamy) honesty in business, and charity toward his needy fellow-men.
Formed in character by this teaching, as a steady inculcation throughout his youth, he comes to manhood strong of body, determined of mind, practicing rigidly and intolerantly his petty virtues of abstinence from the use of tobacco, tea and coffee, proclaiming with fanatical zeal the gospel as it has been proclaimed to him, and self-justified in all that he says or does by the large measure of sincerity in his delusions.
And that is, in some degree, the common training of all Mormons. Every Mormon boy attends Sunday School as soon as he is old enough to lisp his song of adoration to Joseph, the Kingly Prophet, and to the Savior with whom Joseph is early associated in his childish mind. At six years of age, he enters the Primary Association; at twelve he is in the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association; at fourteen or even earlier, he stands in the fast-day meeting and repeats like a creed: "Brethren and Sisters, I feel called upon to say a few words. I am not able to edify you, but I can say that I know this is the Church and Kingdom of God, and I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet and that Brigham Young was his lawful successor, and that the Prophet Joseph F. Smith is heir to all the authority which the Lord has conferred in these days for the salvation of men. And I feel that if I live my religion and do nothing to offend the Holy Spirit I will be saved in the presence of my Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. With these few words I will give way. Praying the Lord to bless each and every one of us is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."
At fourteen he becomes a Deacon of the Church. Between that age and twenty, he becomes an Elder. Very soon thereafter he becomes "a Seventy" and perhaps a high priest. He takes upon himself "covenants in holy places." He becomes "a priest unto the Most High God" - frequently before his eighteenth year. Usually before he is twenty he is sent on a mission to proclaim his gospel - the only one he has ever heard in his life - to "an unenlightened nation" and "a wicked world." For, in addition to being taught that the Mormons are the best, most virtuous, most temperate, most industrious, and most God-fearing of all peoples - a thing that is dinned into his ears from the pulpit every Sunday in the year - he has been convinced by equal iteration that the rest of the world is a festering mass of corruption.
Often he goes abroad, to some country whose language and customs he must learn and upon the charity of whose toilers he must depend for his maintenance. He goes with an implicit reliance upon God, strong in the small virtues that have been taught him from the time he knelt at his mother's knee. He sees, probably for the - first time, the afflictions and the sins among mankind; and he keeps himself unspotted from them, congratulating himself that these grossnesses are unknown to his sheltered home-life and to the religion which he holds as the ideal of his soul. He proclaims his belief that God has spoken from the Heavens, through the Mormon Prophet, in this last day, to restore the gospel of Christ from which the peoples of the earth have wandered. He "bears testimony" to the whole world, and he binds himself to the authority of his Church by proclaiming his belief in it.
When he returns home, after years of service, he is called to the stand in the tabernacle to give a report of his work. He finds waiting for him a ready advancement in the offices of the Church, according as he may show himself worthy of advancement or as the power of family or the favor of ecclesiastical authority may obtain it for him. He marries a girl who has had a training almost identical with his own. She, too, has borne her testimony before she reached years of responsibility. She has taken her vows as a priestess at the age when he was dedicating himself a priest. She may even have performed a foreign mission. They have both been promised that they shall become kings and queens in the eternal world. They are bound by their covenants to obey their superior priests. They cannot disregard their Church affiliations without recanting their vows. The only way they can adhere to their covenants with their Almighty Father - the only way they can demonstrate their acceptance of the atoning power of the Redeemer's sacrifice - is by yielding such obedience to the Prophet as they would pay to the Father and the Son if They were on earth in Their proper persons. To deviate from this faithfulness is to be marked as a Judas Iscariot by all the Latter-Day Saints.
As soon as the Mormon becomes the head of a family - in addition to all the testimonies and performances which he must give as proof of his continued adherence - he must submit himself and his household to the examination and espionage of the ward teachers, who invade his home at least once a month. They enter absolutely as the proprietors of the house. If the husband is there, they ask him whether he performs his duties in the Church; whether he holds family prayer morning and evening; whether he "keeps the word of wisdom" - that is, does he abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee - whether he pays a full tithe and all the prescribed donations to the Church; whether he has any hard feelings against any of his brethren and sisters; and finally, does he devoutly sustain the Prophet as the ruler of God's Kingdom upon earth. These questions, so far as they apply, are put to each member of the family above the age of eight years. Should the husband be away, all the inquiries concerning him are made of the wife. If both parents are absent, the questions concerning them are put to their children!
This one branch of the ecclesiastical service is sufficient of itself to mark the Mormon Church as the most perfectly disciplined institution among mankind. The teachers' quorum in any neighborhood consists of some tried elders, usually of considerable ability and experience. With these are associated numerous young men, many of them returned missionaries. The fact that they have countless other duties in the Church and many other and weightier responsibilities, is not permitted to excuse them from performing strictly this important labor. Perhaps a dozen or twenty families are assigned to a couple of teachers. They are required to visit each of these families once every month. And if they discover any lapse of fidelity, they report at once to the Bishop.
No one who has not seen them on their rounds will believe with what an air of divinely privileged authority they enter a home and force its secrets of conscience - with what an imposing and arrogant zeal - with what a calm assumption of spiritual overlordship and inquisitorial right. Some few years ago after my public criticisms of Joseph F. Smith had been followed by my excommunication, two teachers, on their monthly rounds, came to my home in the evening and made their way calmly to the library where I was sitting with some members of my family. I had just returned from a long absence abroad, and the visit was an untimely intrusion at its best; but we observed the obligations of hospitality with what courtesy we could, and merely evaded the familiar questions which they began to put to us. Finally, the elder of the two teachers, a man of some local prominence in the Church, undertook to "bear testimony" to the wickedness of anyone who opposed the divine rule of Joseph F. Smith; and when I cut him short with a request that he leave the house, he was as shocked and surprised as if he had been Milton's Archangel Michael, after "the fall," and I, a defiant Adam, showing him the door.
In addition to the visitations of the ward teachers, some members of the Ladies Relief Society call upon every family usually once a month, not only to gather donations for the poor, but to have a little quiet talk with the wife and mother of the household. These women of the Relief Society are genuine "Sisters of Charity." In most cases they have themselves plenty of household cares, yet they give much of their time to visiting the sick, supplying the wants of the needy or ministering to the miseries of the afflicted; and if it were not for them and their noblework, the Mormon poor would fare ill in these days of Mormon Church grandeur. Outside of their monthly visitations, they have definite preaching to do. At the meetings of their organization, they "bear testimony" that Joseph was a Prophet - and so on. They have the quarterly stake conferences to attend. Their traveling missionaries go from Salt Lake to the four quarters of the globe to institute and maintain the discipline of the organization and to teach the methods of its practical work in Nursing Schools, mother's classes and the like. They make up one of the noblest bodies of women associated with any social movement of humanity. And in their zeal and submissiveness they are so innocently meek and "biddable" that they can listen with reverence to young Hyrum Smith publicly lecturing the grandmothers of the order for occasionally partaking of a cup of thin tea.
Under such a system of teaching, discipline and espionage, how can the average Mormon man or woman develop any independence of thought or action? At what time of life can he assert himself? Before he has attained the age of reason he has declared his faith in public. If he shall then, in his teens, express any doubt, the priests are ready for him. "You have borne your testimony many times in the Church," they say sternly. "Were you lying then, or have you lost the Spirit of God through your transgressions?" If he reveals any doubt to the ward teachers, they will overwhelm him with argument, and either absolutely reconvert him or silence him with authority. The pressure of family love and pride will be brought to bear upon him. The ecclesiastical authorities will move against him. He knows that every one of his relatives will be humiliated by his unfaithfulness. His "sin" will become known to the whole community, and he will be looked at askance by his friends and his companions.
After he has taken his vows as a priest, how shall he dare to violate them? He knows that if he loses his faith on a mission - in other words, if he dares to make any inquiry into the authenticity of the mission which he is performing - he becomes a deserter from God in the very ranks of battle. He knows that he will be held forever in dishonor among his people; that he will be looked upon as one worse than dead; that he will ruin his own life and despoil his parents of all their eternal comfort and their hope in him.
While I was editing the Salt Lake Tribune, a son of one of the famous apostles came to me with some anxious inquiries, and said: "Frank, I have been working in the Church and teaching this gospel so assiduously for nearly forty years that I have never had time to find out whether it's true or not!"
If the Mormon, in his later years of manhood, dares to doubt, he must either reveal his disloyalty to the ward teachers or continue to deny it, from month to month, and remain a supine servant of authority. If he reveals it, he knows that the news of his defection will permeate the entire circle with which he is associated in politics, in business and in religion. If his superstition does not hold him, his worldly prudence will. He knows that all the aid of the community will be withdrawn from him; every voice that has expressed affection for him will speak in hate; every hand that has clasped his in friendship will be turned against him. And into this very prudence there enters something of a moral warning. For he has seen how many a man, deprived of the association and fraternity of the Church, feeling himself shunned in a lonely ostracism, has not been strong enough to endure in rectitude and has fallen into dissipation. Every instance of the sort is rehearsed by the faithful, with many exultant expressions of mourning, in the hearing of the doubter. And finally, it is the prediction of the priests that no apostate can prosper; and though the Mormon people are charitable and do not intend to be unjust, they inevitably tend to fulfill the prophecy and devote the apostate to material destruction.
The great doctrine of the Mormon faith is obedience; the one proof of grace is conformity. So long as a man pays a full tithe, contributes all the required donations, and yields unquestioningly to the orders of the priests, he may even depart in a moral sense from any other of the Church's laws and find himself excused. But any questioning of the rulership of the Prophets - the rightfulness of their authority or the justice of its exercise is apostasy, is a denial of the faith, is a sin against the Holy Ghost. The man who obeys in all things is promised that he shall come forth in the morning of the first resurrection; the man who disobeys, and by his disobedience apostatizes, is condemned to work out, through an eternity of suffering, his offense against the Holy Spirit. At the first sign of defection - almost inevitably discovered in its incipiency - the rebel is either disciplined into submission or at once pushed over "the battlements of Heaven!"
By such perfect means, the leaders, chosen under a pretense of revelation from God, maintain an unassailable sanctity in the eyes of the people, who are themselves priests. These people implicitly believe that the voice of the leader is the voice of God. They follow with a passionate devotion that is made up of a fanatical priestly faith and of a sympathy that sees their Prophets "persecuted" by an ungenerous, impure and vindictive world. We love that for which we suffer; and it has become the inheritance of the Mormons to love the priesthood, for whose protection their parents and grandparents suffered, and under whose oppressions they now suffer themselves.
Joseph Smith, the original Prophet, was slain in the Carthage jail; to the Mormon mind this is proof that he was the anointed of God and that he sealed his testimony with his blood, as did the Savior. John Taylor, afterwards President of the Church, was not slain at Carthage, but only wounded; and this to the Mormons is proof that he was of the eternal kindred of the Prophets, because, under God's direction, he gave his blood to their defense. But Willard Richards, a companion of Smith and Taylor, was not even injured at Carthage; and this is accepted as proof that God had charge of his holy ones, and would not permit wicked men to do them harm. When the people left Nauvoo and journeyed through Iowa, some of the citizens of that state would not harbor them; and this is argued as evidence that the Mormon movement was God's work, since the hand of the wicked was against it; but in some localities of Iowa the emigrants were aided, and this also is proof that the Mormon movement was God's work, since the hearts of the people were melted to assist it. When Johnston's army was sent to Utah, it was proof that the Mormon Church was the true Church, hated and persecuted by a wicked nation; when Johnston's army withdrew without a battle, it was a new guarantee of the divinity of the work; and it is even believed among the Mormons that the Civil War was ordained from the heavens, at the sudden command of God, to compel Johnston's withdrawal and save God's people.
In the same way the persecutions of "the raid," and the cessation of those persecutions - the early trials of poverty and the present abundance of prosperity - the threat of the Smoot investigation and the abortive conclusion of that exposure - are all argued as proofs of the divinity of a persecuted Church or given as instances of the miraculous "overruling" of God to prosper his chosen people. No matter what occurs, the Prophets, by applying either one of these formulae, can translate the incident into a new proof of grace; and their followers submissively accept the interpretation.
On the night of April 18, 1905, Joseph F. Smith and some eight of his sons sat in his official box at the Salt Lake theatre to watch a prize fight that lasted for twenty gory rounds. The Salt Lake Tribune published the fact that the Prophet of God, and vicegerent of Christ, had given the approval of his "holy presence" to this clumsy barbarity. A devout old lady, who had been with the Church since the days of Nauvoo, rebuked us bitterly for publishing such a falsehood about President Smith. "How dare you tell such wicked lies about God's servants?" she scolded. "President Smith wouldn't do such a wicked thing as attend a prize fight. And you know that no man with any sense of decency would take his young sons to look at such a dreadful thing!" Some time later, when the facts in the case had come to her, in her retirement, from her friends, the editor called upon her to quiz her about the incident. She said: "I'm sure I don't see what business it is of the outside world anyhow what President Smith does. He has a right to go to the theatre if he wants to. I don't believe they would have anything but what's good in the Salt Lake theatre. It was built by our people and they own it. And if it wasn't good, President Smith wouldn't have taken his boys there."
And this was not merely the absurdity of an old woman. It is the logic of all the faithful. The leaders cannot do wrong - because it is not wrong, if they do it. No criticism of them can be effective. No act of theirs can be proven an error. If they do not do a thing, it was right not to do it; and it would have been a sin if it had been done. But if they do that thing, then it was right to do it; and it would have been a sin if it had not been done.
This reliance upon the almighty power and prophetic infallibility of the leaders prevents the Mormon people from truly appreciating the dangers that threaten them. It keeps them ignorant of outside sentiment. It makes them despise even a national hostility. And it has left them without gratitude, too, for a national grace. Before these people can be roused to any independence of responsible thought, it will be necessary to break their trust in the ability of their leaders to make bargains of protection with the world; and then it will still be necessary to force the eyes of their self-complacency to turn from the satisfied contemplation of their own virtues. "You will never be able to reach the conscience of the Mormons," a man who knows them has declared. "I have had my experiences with both leaders and people. If you tell them 'You're ninety-nine-and-one-half per cent. pure gold,' they will ask, surprised and indignant: 'What? Why, what's the matter with the other half per cent.?'