Come Follow Me: Doctrine and Covenants 71-75: “No Weapon That Is Formed against You Shall Prosper”

When Church Experiences Are Less Than Ideal

An 1831 mission to Missouri did not go as expected.

A large team of missionaries, including Joseph Smith, Signey Rigdon, Ezra Booth, Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, and Reynolds Cahoon, among others, traveled from Kirtland, Ohio to Independance, Missouri in June 1831. The missionaries had big expectations for this mission.

The pairs of missionaries departed for Missouri with high hopes. They believed the day of Jesus’s return to earth was very near and that they were traveling to locate and build a temple city in which they would gather to receive the Lord when He came. Rumors rippled that Oliver Cowdery and his fellow missionaries were on the verge of converting many American Indians.
—Matthew McBride, Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley, Revelations in Context

Joseph spoke optimistically about the church in Independence. He told some of the elders that Oliver and the other missionaries were sure to have built up a strong branch of the church there, as they had in Kirtland. Some of the elders took it as a prophecy.
Saints, Chapter 12: After Much Tribulation

But some missionaries were unhappy with Joseph Smith’s leadership choices during the journey:

[Ezra Booth] was upset that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon left for Missouri on a wagon, while he and Isaac [Morley] were called to walk the entire distance in the summer heat, preaching along the way.
—Matthew McBride, Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley, Revelations in Context

…and that the mission area and people did not match expectations:

But when they reached the town [of Independence, Missouri], the elders were unimpressed by what they saw. Ezra Booth, a former minister who had joined the church after seeing Joseph heal a woman’s paralyzed arm, thought the area looked dreary and undeveloped. It had a courthouse, a few stores, several log houses—and little else. The missionaries had baptized only a handful of people in the area, so the branch was not as strong as Joseph had expected. Feeling misled, Ezra and others began to question Joseph’s prophetic gifts. Joseph was disappointed too. Fayette and Kirtland were small villages, but Independence was little more than a backwater trading post. The town was a point of departure for trails going west, so it drew fur trappers and teamsters along with farmers and small businessmen. Joseph had known people in most of these trades all his life, but he found the men in Independence especially godless and rough. What’s more, government agents in the town were suspicious of the missionaries and would likely make preaching to Indians difficult, if not impossible.
Saints, Chapter 12: After Much Tribulation

…and that they did not accomplish nearly as much as they had planned to:

In spite of disappointment and the enormity of the city building project, Joseph was determined to make a start. Together with Sidney Rigdon and others, he set to work. They consecrated the land near Independence for a place of gathering, laid the first log for a house in Zion, and set the northeast cornerstone for a temple. Some of the elders, like Reynolds Cahoon, saw exciting possibilities in these symbolic beginnings. “There my mortal eyes beheld grate and marvilous things,” he wrote, “such as my eyes once never even contemplated of seeing in this world.”13 But Ezra Booth was unimpressed by the meager start. It was “a curiosity,” he said, “but not worth going to Missouri to see.”14
—Matthew McBride, Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley, Revelations in Context

The return trip was tense.

Ezra [Booth] and other church elders started their journey back to Kirtland with Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney. Ezra was relieved to be returning home to Ohio. Unlike Edward, he had not had a change of heart about Joseph or the location of Zion.

The men launched canoes onto the wide Missouri River, just north of Independence, and paddled downstream. At the end of the first day of travel, they were in good spirits and enjoyed a dinner of wild turkey along the riverbank. On the following day, however, the August weather was hot and the river was wild and difficult to navigate. The men quickly grew tired and soon began criticizing each other.30

“As the Lord God liveth,” Oliver [Cowdery] finally shouted at the men, “if you do not behave better, some accident will befall you.”

Joseph took the lead in his canoe the next afternoon, but some of the elders were upset with him and Oliver and refused to paddle. At a dangerous bend in the river, they hit a submerged tree and nearly capsized. Fearing for the lives of everyone in the company, Joseph and Sidney ordered the elders off the river.

After they set up camp, Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney tried to talk to the group and ease tensions. Irritated, the men called Joseph and Sidney cowards for getting off the river, mocked the way Oliver paddled his canoe, and accused Joseph of acting like a dictator. The quarrel lasted long into the night.
Saints, Chapter 12: After Much Tribulation

This problematic mission experience affected the missionaries involved differently.

Isaac Morley and Edward Partridge had negative reactions to the mission, but went on to accept callings as bishops.

While Ezra Booth’s experiences in traveling to Missouri turned him away from the Church, Isaac Morley’s ultimately drew him closer. During the trip, Morley evidently shared, at least to a degree, in Ezra Booth’s cynicism. A revelation received on September 11 (Doctrine and Covenants 64) chastised both [Ezra] Booth and [Isaac] Morley: “They condemned for evil that thing in which there was no evil.” Any second thoughts Morley may have had about his mission were short-lived. Unlike Ezra Booth, Isaac Morley had ceased his criticisms and changed his outlook. The revelation continued in the Lord’s own voice: “I have forgiven my Servent Isaac.”Having persevered through his doubts, he went on to serve as a bishop and a patriarch. He passed away in Utah in 1865.27
—Matthew McBride, Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley, Revelations in Context

Like Ezra Booth, Edward [Partridge] had expected to find a large branch of the church in the area. Instead, he and the Saints were to build Zion in a town where people were wary of them and not at all interested in the restored gospel.

As bishop of the church, he also understood that much of the responsibility for laying the foundation of Zion fell on his shoulders. To prepare the promised land for the Saints, he would have to buy as much of it as possible to distribute as inheritances to those who came to Zion and kept the law of consecration. This meant that he would have to stay in Missouri and move his family permanently to Zion.

Edward wanted to help establish Zion, but so much about the revelation, his new responsibilities, and the area troubled him. One day, as he inspected the land in and around Independence, he pointed out to Joseph that it was not as good as other land nearby. He was frustrated with the prophet and did not see how the Saints could establish Zion there.

“I see it,” Joseph testified, “and it will be so.”

A few days later, the Lord again revealed his word to Joseph, Edward, and the other elders of the church. “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation,” He declared. “For after much tribulation come the blessings.”

In the revelation, the Lord also chastened Edward’s unbelief. “If he repent not of his sins,” He said of the bishop, “let him take heed lest he fall. Behold his mission is given unto him, and it shall not be given again.”

The warning humbled Edward. He asked the Lord to forgive his blindness of heart and told Joseph that he would stay in Independence and prepare the land of Zion for the Saints. Yet he still worried he was not up to the enormous task that lay ahead.

“I fear my station is above what I can perform to the acceptance of my Heavenly Father,” he confessed in a letter to Lydia. “Pray for me that I may not fall.”
Saints, Chapter 12: After Much Tribulation

Back home, the situation escalated with Ezra Booth.

When Ezra returned to Kirtland, he continued to criticize Joseph and complain about his actions on the mission. A conference of Saints soon revoked Ezra’s preaching license.
Saints, Chapter 13: The Gift Has Returned

Beginning that October, the Ohio Star, a newspaper located in Ravenna, Ohio, began publishing a series of letters Booth penned, heavily criticizing Joseph Smith and the Church.
—Matthew McBride, Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley, Revelations in Context

Excerpts from the letters can be found in these articles.  While the letters gave a largely accurate account of the mission and other church events Ezra Booth had witnessed during his time as a church member, the tone was negative, critical and occasionally sarcastic.

Responding to Criticism

In D&C 71, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received a revelation instructing them to preach in Ohio as a sort of public relations campaign to counter the bad publicity from Ezra Booth’s letters.

Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, that the time has verily come that it is necessary and expedient in me that you should open your mouths in proclaiming my gospel, the things of the kingdom, expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures, according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you, even as I will.
D&C 71:1

  • What does it mean to act “according to that portion of Spirit and power” the Lord gives us?
  • Why is it important that we act “according to that portion of Spirit and power” the Lord gives us?

The Lord then provided Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon with some “wisdom” to guide them in their task:

Wherefore, labor ye in my vineyard. Call upon the inhabitants of the earth, and bear record, and prepare the way for the commandments and revelations which are to come.

Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also;

For unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power.
D&C 71:4-6

  • How is understanding and receiving commandments and revelations different than simply reading them?
  • What do we need to do to better understand and receive the gospel?
  • How does receiving give us power?

In the New Testament, Paul taught Timothy that power from God is accompanied by other spiritual gifts as well: love and a sound mind.

When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began
2 Timothy 1:5-9

  • Why do we need to respond to people who may criticize our beliefs with love and a sound mind?
  • How can a loving and mindful response be powerful?
  • How can we avoid fear and shame?
  • Why do you think Paul reminded Timothy of the examples of his mother and grandmother?  How can we be strengthened by remembering the good influences in our lives?
  • How can we “stir up” our spiritual gifts?

The Lord also counseled patience to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon regarding Ezra Booth and other critics:

Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you—there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper;

And if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time.

D&C 71:8-10

  • What can we learn from this counsel?
  • Why should we “let [people] bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord?” How do we do that?

Elder Hales taught that when our beliefs are challenged, we have an opportunity to emulate Jesus Christ:

One of mortality’s great tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. In such moments, we may want to respond aggressively—to “put up our dukes.” But these are important opportunities to step back, pray, and follow the Savior’s example. …To respond in a Christlike way cannot be scripted or based on a formula. The Savior responded differently in every situation. When He was confronted by wicked King Herod, He remained silent. When He stood before Pilate, He bore a simple and powerful testimony of His divinity and purpose. Facing the moneychangers who were defiling the temple, He exercised His divine responsibility to preserve and protect that which was sacred. Lifted up upon a cross, He uttered the incomparable Christian response: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.
—Elder Robert D. Hales, Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship, 2008

  • Jesus responded in many different ways, so how can we know if we are doing what He would do?

Learning from Criticism

Joseph Smith learned from this experience and edited his revelation regarding American Indians in Missouri to clarify that whether the church would be established among them would hinge on whether they chose to convert:

Original Text

And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and cause my church to be established among them
—Text of D&C 28:8, as reported by Ezra Booth, Ohio Star, December 8, 1831. Available in Marquardt, H. Michael (2008) Ezra Booth on Early Mormonism: a Look at His 1831 Letters. The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal Vol. 28, pp. 65-87

Clarified Text

And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them
D&C 28:8 (current  version, published in 1835)

At times, the feedback we receive from critics can be useful, even if the tone is harsh.

Consider the suggestions, not the tone of the feedback. Understand that some people may have valuable critical suggestions, but their tone and style of speaking may hamper the way you receive it. For those reasons, it better to respond to the feedback and not their confrontational manner. Therefore, detach the two items and focus on the useful suggestions.
—Purity Muriuki, 15 Effective Ways of Dealing with Criticism & Negative Comments, 2020

To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.
—Elder David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, 2006

  • Does anyone have any experiences to share in which you learned something useful from criticism that caused you to make a change?
  • What strategies help you listen to and learn from criticism, despite its tone?

Communicating Productively about Religious Issues

In our church today, we continue to have members who have negative experiences on their missions or in other spiritual rituals, such as temple attendance, that many other members of our faith community find spiritually enriching.

  • How can we talk to each other about these experiences?
  • If our experience was positive, how can we hear other points of view with empathy and without defensiveness?
  • If our experience was negative, how can be be honest about it while also being respectful of others who find these experiences positive and sacred?

Sister Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, author of Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood, is an expert on the Way of Openness, a framework for holding productive conversations about religion among people with differing religious experiences, levels of orthodoxy and beliefs.

The Way of Openness is a set of dialogue conventions developed by Randall Paul at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Randall’s worldview, which stems from his Latter-day Saint theology and his generous heart, is that deep disagreements between people do not indicate that one person is very righteous and the other very wicked, or that one person is very smart and the other very stupid. Rather, deep disagreements between people are symptomatic of their mutual goodness, their desire to enact what is right in the world, and their unwillingness to compromise their values and beliefs about what people need to flourish. The goal for productive dialogue is not compromise, but trust.
Sister Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, The Way of Openness: Conventions for Productive Dialogue, April 22, 2020, Mormon Women for Ethical Government

  • How would we converse differently if we saw disagreement as symptoms of mutual goodness?
  • How would our conversations be different if our goal were trust instead of compromise?

Read the Way of Openness.

  • Which of these strategies have you tried in difficult religious conversations?
  • What has worked for you?

The Way of Openness
The Way of Openness is a set of skills and attitudes that will significantly improve the quality of your conversations, your perception of yourself and others, and the power of your influence for good in the world.

Be Honest
Honesty begins when you look in the mirror. Who do you really think you are and who do want to become? When you are deeply honest, you acknowledge your motives for doing things, and express your thoughts and feelings without faking it. Your honesty prompts others to respond the same way, and with open hearts and minds real communication results.

Be Kind
Kindness goes further toward building trust than the other practices listed here. It is not weak, or naive, or mere politeness. Kindness is a language easily recognized and understood by everyone. Sincere kindness is a powerful way to influence others to desire to hear you. But, be wise: nothing shatters trust more than phony, manipulative kindness, or false respectfulness.

Listen Well
It is hard to listen well when you focus more on your feelings and thoughts than those of the person addressing you. Listening well is not remaining quiet before you insert your response; it is intense focus on a unique person with a desire for understanding. By listening like this to others you offer the gift of respectful empathy that everyone craves to receive. In return others feel like they should listen well to understand you.

Share The Floor
If you want to be taken seriously you must take others seriously. Sharing the floor means allowing others equal time to speak even when you “know” you are right and they are wrong. It acknowledges the mutual dignity of those engaged in conversation. Hogging the floor is disrespectful and rude, and it always undermines your persuasive ability when you appear dismissive or fearful of what others have to say.

Presume Good Will
We often presume that others do not have our best interests at heart. Sometimes they don’t. But you sabotage any honest communication with someone you presume to be stupid, duped, or ill-intentioned. Presuming good will is not agreeing with someone else’s beliefs or values. It means that you grant that others are clear-thinking and good hearted unless proven otherwise.

Acknowledge the Differences
Each of us is uniquely different with a unique history and perspective. Acknowledging our important differences openly frees us to know where we stand without having to guess, and creates a tone of trust for real conversation. You cannot feel whole or honest if you focus only on similarities and avoid facing differences in deep beliefs and values.

Answer the Tough Questions
With genuine differences come tough questions—especially if the goal is a trusting relationship. When you answer tough questions in a straightforward way, sharing the floor equally and presuming good will, you build strong mutual trust. You can then face offensive issues without taking offense. However, diving deeper for better understanding has a limit. Aggressive interrogation or pushing for private details destroys trust.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Any compliment feels good, but a sincere compliment from an unexpected source such as a rival or critic can move our hearts powerfully toward trust. By openly admiring the excellence or good on ‘the other side’ you demonstrate your honesty and fairness, and your confidence that your side can handle the truth. But be cautious—insincere compliments to manipulate or disarm others disastrously undermine any grounds for trust.

Speak Only for Yourself
Each of us is unique and we don’t like others—especially outsiders—to stereotype us or claim they know what we really believe or value. So ask, don’t tell others what they think and feel. It is tempting to speak for your friends and tribe members as if they all share the same view as you do. Except when you have been authorized to speak on behalf of others, speak only for yourself and encourage others to do likewise.

Keep Private Things Private
Humans are social beings, but their thoughts and feelings are private unless expressed. Personal dignity is based in large part on your freedom to choose when and where to share your inner self with others. Being open, honest and trustworthy does not require you (even if it were possible) to disclose all things to all people. Keeping private things private means you strictly honor someone’s choice to say something to you alone. If you cannot keep it private, you should ask the person not to share it.
—The Way of Openness, World Table

While conversations with people from other religions are difficult, speaking to people from your own faith who have different views of it is also challenging.  We often expect members of our own faith to believe the same things when in reality, their is vast diversity of thought within the membership of the church. Sometimes, we can be shocked and defensive when another church member interprets the gospel differently than we do.

The Way of Openness worked in a dialogue over one of the thorniest interreligious issues out there. But an even thornier situation is intrareligious dialogue, between people who share a religious tradition. This is where everything blows up. This is where the knives and brass knuckles come out.

…The solution is not new arguments or new information, but new experiences and new relationships. People have their views because of their experiences. You can’t explain their experiences away. You can’t explain what their experiences mean to them. However, when two people with different worldviews form a relationship, the relationship itself can become the basis for something new. Relationships create trust. If I care about someone, I am more likely to view their experience as valuable and their worldview as valid.

…Someone is more likely to listen to you if they trust you. Someone is more likely to trust you if they know you care about them and are listening to them. This takes time and it is very inefficient. You can’t listen to people en masse. You can’t care about people en masse. It has to happen one on one.

We today are living in a historic moment, a moment in which the people of the world are both connected and divided as never before. The Information Age has given birth to 500 new technologies to help us shout and 200 new ways to call names. We have perfected visually striking ways of distorting our enemies’ words and know the sounds of some voices so well we can turn off the volume as soon as we hear the first few words. But where does this leave us? Surrounded by idiots, in a world full of garbage. Who wants to live in that kind of world?

I don’t want to live in a world full of patriarchal jerks, partisan scumbags, and ignorant hypocrites. So often it’s hard to remember, but actually, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe we live in a world filled with the children of God. I believe the purpose of life is to learn to look after each other, to help each other become better. But our experiences are so incredibly different. No wonder we disagree.
Sister Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, The Way of Openness: Conventions for Productive Dialogue, April 22, 2020, Mormon Women for Ethical Government

  • How have you maintained good relationships with friends and family who understand the gospel differently than you do?

A Jewish rabbi describes his attitude toward those with less orthodox views in his synagogue.

We do not need to put aside our left-brain training as we open ourselves to what the mystics can teach us. Rather, we can ask the questions that will bring us greater awareness of our souls: “How can I connect to what’s eternal and infinite within me and the world? How can I experience a sense of awe and wonder in my life?”

This search, whether or not we use the word “God,” pulls us into the deep and vital current of Judaism. And it doesn’t demand that the atheists and agnostics among us suspend their doubts and disbelief.

Judaism is embracing enough to welcome us all.
—Rabbi John L. Rosove, January 19, 2018

  • Could we emulate his openness to differing levels of belief in our own faith community?
  • Why or why not?

Like Ezra Booth, some modern members eventually choose to leave the faith. When currently active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) converse about religious issues with people who have chosen to leave the faith, the conversation can be heated. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf described a common misconception active church members have about others who have chosen to leave:

The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved.

One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.
—President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Come, Join with Us, 2013

  • How will it change our interactions with former members if we avoid assumptions about why they left?
  • What have you done to help you better empathize with the struggles and concerns of a loved one who has left the LDS church?

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

You may also like...

4 Responses

  1. Hedwig says:

    This is a lot of good stuff here to talk about, but there is one thing I am stuck on.

    Joseph had a revelation from God. Then reality did not match up with the revelation. So…he went back and CHANGED the revelation. The one from God. In order for it not to be wrong he had to change it retroactively.

    That is an option???

    • That is certainly one way to look at it.

      Members of the LDS Church often talk about prophets receiving revelation as if it happens like this: the Lord dictates words aloud in the English language, and the prophet writes them down verbatim. If it happened like that, no revision would ever be necessary.

      But with the Joseph Smith Papers project, the Church ahas been open about the fact that Joseph edited and revised his revelations, just as anyone who is writing an important document would.

      Personally, I am more inclined to believe that revelations come in the form of impressions, and that humans are responsible for the work of putting impressions into human language. I wrote more about that here: https://www.the-exponent.com/not-written-with-the-finger-of-god/

      • Hedwig says:

        Perhaps my idea of a prophet is too one-dimentional. Thank you for the alternate perspective.

  2. Here is an additional quote and article from the church website that may be useful if any participants in the class have questions about the process of writing, revising and editing the revelations in Doctrine and Covenants:

    Many revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants do not now appear as when they were first recorded. However, a correct understanding of the nature of the revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received and how he updated them in light of continued revelation explains why many changes occurred. Indeed, each of the sections has been edited to some degree, demonstrating that Joseph Smith did not receive all these revelations as word-for-word dictations from the Lord (although he may have received some this way). Rather, he received inspiration and wrote the revelations using his own words, often couched in Victorian English.

    https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1985/01/how-the-revelations-in-the-doctrine-and-covenants-were-received-and-compiled.p2?lang=eng

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.