Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Church Ain't The Kingdom, Part Three

Previously (see here and here), we examined Joseph Smith's vision of a kingdom of God he hoped to see instituted on the earth in his day. I had intended to conclude this week with an investigation into how and why that dream failed to materialize, but instead I'll address concerns that have come in from readers who wondered about seeming inconsistencies between scriptural accounts of the kingdom of God, and the information we have about the efforts of the Council of Fifty to institute it in modern times. So it looks like this series will have a fourth part, to conclude (hopefully) early next month.

I am far from an expert on this topic. I''m not going to be able to answer every question I've been asked because I don't know all the answers. I haven't absorbed everything I've read on my first go-round, and indeed I haven't yet read everything there is. So please take what I offer below as my opinion based on what little I've gleaned about this business so far.

Let's remember that although we now have access to more information on this episode in our history than we did previously, the minutes of the Council did not always record all of Joseph Smith's instructions on the subject.  We simply don't know everything he taught about it. The most reliable artifacts we have are the minutes taken during the actual meetings, but at times the scribe recording the minutes would simply tell us something to the effect that "Joseph then lectured at length about the kingdom" and then completely leave out most of what the prophet had said on that occasion. It's maddening, yes, and to further complicate things, we don't have the original minutes. What we have are copies of the original minutes that were transferred into three blank copybooks in the handwriting of William Clayton (the original pages were burned), and Clayton has proven to be less than reliable. But at least we have some second-hand recollections by those in attendance. Unfortunately, most of those recollections weren't written down until much later. Often some forty years later.

As I have documented previously, prior to the 20th century, even professional historians felt no obligation to present history accurately or objectively; George Bancroft, eminent author of the famous ten volume classic History of the United States, admitted to fabricating entire events when he felt such inclusions would serve to promote patriotism and good feelings in the reader. Mormons of the pioneer era were no different. Where we assume they have given us accurate accounts, too often those accounts have been changed, inflated, or embellished beyond recognition in order to make those accounts faith-promoting.

Much of the history that has been handed down to us by our pioneer forebears is sometimes true, but often false.

For an example of this propensity for error in reporting on the proposed kingdom, we need look no further than the excerpt I included in part one of this series, where Brigham Young is explaining to the Saints how the kingdom of God would operate on the earth. He described the kingdom as a place where all could gather and live in harmony, no matter what religious faith they adhered to. Anyone wishing to dwell in peace within the kingdom must remember,
"...that you must not persecute your neighbors, but must mind your own business, and let your neighbors alone, and let them worship the sun, moon, a white dog, or anything else they please, being mindful that every knee has got to bow and every tongue confess. When you have paid this tribute to the Most High, who created you and preserves you, you may then go and worship what you please, or do what you please, if you do not infringe upon your neighbors."
 I think Brigham got it mostly right, but I believe his timing was off on that part where every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. That would happen eventually, upon the appearance of Jesus to the whole world. Then Everyone will recognize Him for who he claims to be and confess Him to be the Christ. But that event will take place sometime after the kingdom has been instituted.

Brigham seems to believe that a confession of Christ would be the initial requirement for anyone wishing to live among the believers, but he's clearly wrong. The kingdom of God was to be a commonwealth or republic where anyone can live in harmony with everyone else prior to His second coming. There will be no requirement or confession of faith; only a willingness to respect the right of one's neighbor to the freedom of his own conscience. Brigham does not seem to notice the contradiction in his own words, when he says they must confess that Christ is the king, and then go off and worship a white dog or anything else. Why would everyone on the earth confess that Jesus is the Christ, yet still want to go home and worship something else?  I'm pretty sure that's not how it's going to work.

Let's move on and examine some of these other seeming contradictions. For the sake of brevity, I'm combining some reader's questions, or otherwise summarizing them in my own words:

"If Jesus said 'The kingdom of God is within you' how could the kingdom be a physical location?"

Jesus did say that (Luke 17:21). But why did he say it?

At that time, both the religious and political orders dominant in Judea would certainly have been inimical to a system that relied upon voluntary cooperation between people (John 18:36). A system that relied on harmony and cooperation wouldn't be able to find purchase as long as the competing system of the Romans had a chokehold on the land.  The true king was on the earth, yes, but his kingdom was not yet hence (John 18:36), though it was nigh at hand (Luke 19:11). Jesus indicated that the kingdom of God would come later, after he was gone (Luke 22:18), but that it was something to wait for, to look forward to at some future time (Luke 23:52).

So what did Jesus mean when he said "the kingdom of God is within you? What Jesus meant was this: you're not going to find the kingdom of God anywhere in the present political or religious order, but if you want to find it, look within yourself. Find that divine essence that will allow you to have charity toward others. It is that integrity of being that defines the way the kingdom of God operates. You all have that divine essence within you. Dig deep enough and you will find that charitable essence.

"Charity" means more than simply donating money to the poor. It is a state of heart and mind that enables you to set aside any desire to mold others into the kind of people you want them to be. Charity means you allow the other person to make his own mistakes, to stumble, fall, and pick themselves up again without you bossing them around and making them do things your way. In other words, you only have the privilege of ruling yourself; you are not permitted to rule over anyone else, even if you are convinced you could manage that other person's life better than they can.

What you can do is be there to offer assistance, but most especially to do what you can to alleviate the other person's pain. That is being charitable; allowing the other person to make his own mistakes, while being there to help him up when he asks for it.

Looking for the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is within you.  It grows out of your example and your willingness to be charitable. You cannot force it on anyone else. The kingdom of God cannot be imposed.

That holds true today. If you want to operate on the same principles that heaven operates on, first look within and correct what isn't working in your own life. Or, as Dr. Jordan Peterson puts it, before you bravely march out to fix what's wrong with the world, start by cleaning up your room.

"What about the description of the kingdom of God in 1st Nephi 15? That appears to be a place where no unclean thing can enter into. How is that consistent with the kingdom of heaven established through the Council of Fifty?"

The element in all this that seems to cause confusion is that the scriptures often refer to two different kingdoms by the same or similar names. One is the kingdom where God dwells in heaven, the other is the kingdom of God on earth, which is the one Daniel spoke of in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Generally, when the scriptures speak of the heavenly kingdom where God currently dwells, it's referred to as "the kingdom of heaven," while "the kingdom of God" generally refers to the kingdom of God on earth.

Generally, but not always. Another way of understanding this thing is that God and angels dwell in a heavenly kingdom that we should want to emulate to the best of our ability. We emulate that kingdom by governing ourselves in a way similar to the way the angels govern themselves in heaven. That is, government without compulsion.

When reading about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven in scripture, we should be able to recognize which kingdom is being referred to by the context in which it is read. Remember that Joseph saw himself helping to lay the foundation of an earthly kingdom, not the heavenly one that was already in existence:
"I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel, by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world." (The Words of Joseph Smith, Ehat and Cook, 367.)
Obviously, Daniel's dream was not referring to the heavenly kingdom where God dwells, but to an earthly kingdom that would eventually supplant all other earthly systems of government. The reason it would supplant the earthly systems is simply because all earthly systems are flawed. Every system of government on earth, including the government of the United States, relies ultimately on coercion to enforce its will. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is a voluntary system where the rights of others would be respected because the hearts of the participants would be without guile. Those who participate in that Godly system would be self-policing, which means they would restrain themselves from imposing their will on others. No outside force would be required to restrain them.

Those unable to act with charity toward others would not be happy there, and would ultimately select out on their own. They would leave, because those inclined to rule over others would have difficulty finding subjects. No one would be inclined to follow them.

"Where is the revelation given to Joseph Smith commanding him to begin laying the foundation for the kingdom of heaven?"

I don't know. Or I suppose I should say I don't remember where it is. I could wade through the minutes again and try to find it, but frankly, I think that's irrelevant. The Lord revealed His will to the entire Council, not through one particular person.

It's not easy for us to grasp the concept of revelation to the many, as we have been taught that the Lord reveals His will to the Church only through his appointed prophet. We deserve to revise our thinking on this. Here is the important thing to know about the Council of Fifty: Joseph Smith did not govern this body. He did not direct it. His role was to gather these men together, teach them what they needed to know, and then lay it all on their shoulders and step back. He never intended to do anything other than, in his words, "lay the foundation." As we shall see in the next installment, Joseph Smith never intended to have anything more to do with the kingdom past the time he got these guys to take it upon themselves.

Members of the council received revelation constantly regarding their duties and responsibilities. They report having experiences that brought them closer to God than ever before. They knew absolutely that they were involved in an unprecedented undertaking and that this was the work the Lord had always intended for them to do, this was the entire reason for the Restoration in the first place, it was to be the Lord's Magnum Opus for the last days. It should not surprise us to learn that His spirit was ever present in these proceedings and among these men.

It was actually a revelation from God directly to the body that gave the Council its long-form name. That name includes their having the right to govern through revelation. Here again is that name: "The Kingdom of God and His Laws, With the Keys and Power Thereof, and Judgement in the Hands of his Servants."

Notice that last clause: judgment in the hands of His servants. That's their authority to receive revelation right there. No more than twelve meetings of the council took place during Joseph's lifetime, and these meetings all occurred inside of three months. Joseph wasn't needed to lead this council; these men knew their responsibilities. They were to lay the framework of the kingdom's limited government, explore possible locations outside the borders of the United States where they could set up their independent commonwealth; and after that, invite other freedom-minded families to join them there, similar to what had been formed in the Republic of Texas a decade before.

Once a location had been selected and the Saints and other freedom lovers removed to it, the duties of the council would be simple: maintain contact with the king, Jesus Christ, through continuous revelation, assuring that no one who was domiciled within those boundaries attempted to impose his will on any other, or persecuted any others for their beliefs. That would have been pretty much the extent of the Council's police powers.

It's also instructive to remember that once the kingdom was underway, the Council of Fifty would not become some permanent, hierarchical body ruling over the kingdom.  Members of the council would serve under their fellow men and women, without pay, so there would be no advantage to making a career out of such service. Each man would continue holding down regular employment just as he was now, laboring for his own support after the model of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. There was no profit to be gained by sitting on the council, since it was all voluntary.

Membership in the council was to remain fluid and ever-changing, with the hope that more of the LDS members would be replaced by non-members so the kingdom would not be perceived as an extension of the LDS church. In short, the Council was less a governing authority than a method for ensuring that no single person or group of persons tried to rise to positions of leadership in the kingdom. The Book of Mormon example of the wicked King Noah and his court of high priests was a stark reminder as to what can happen when a people allow some to rise to positions of authority. Such a society then ceases to be a community of equals. The council was to have one salient purpose for existing: to see that all the people were protected in their rights, none above another.

"Far from breaking up and consuming all other kingdoms, this one looks like it's trying to break away from the rest of the world to become isolated from it. How could a society like the one proposed by the Council of Fifty possibly fulfill the prophecy of Daniel?"

Let's look at why the Council was considering the newly formed Republic of Texas as their possible new home, and see how that land mass could have included the birthplace of the kingdom. In fact, let's go back further to the founding of the United States. The United States was not intended by its founders to ever evolve into one monolithic country governed by a central authority. Rather, the founders envisioned it to be a collection of separate countries, republics independent from one another and "united" only by certain principles held in common; they were not to be "united" as one single entity. The expectation was that if any state government became oppressive to its inhabitants, those inhabitants would have the option of removing themselves to a neighboring state where they could enjoy greater freedom and opportunity.

The territory of Texas held that type of allure to a growing number of North Americans who were becoming convinced that none of the existing states in the U.S. held the opportunity to be truly free as did this area that was now completely free from of European control. The area we now know as Texas had for some time been claimed both by France and by Spain, with Spain ultimately prevailing against France and naming the area "New Spain." By the early 1800s however, as Napoleon recognized the futility of trying to hold onto the land France had long claimed for itself on the American continent, so too did the government of Spain realize it no longer made sense to fight to hold its possessions in New Spain. Texas was one of New Spain's least populated provinces, and not worth the bother.

So Spain relinquished this territory to Mexico, and the faraway government of Mexico encouraged people from America and Europe to Migrate to Texas and settle, encouraging natives from the interior of Mexico get out there and do the same. There was plenty of room for everybody, and these three classes -Mexicans, Americans, and Europeans- had little trouble getting along in their new land.

Some years later, the new president of Mexico, Santa Anna, decided to bring everyone in Texas under his control, resulting in all these settlers -former Mexicans, former Americans, and former Europeans- fighting off Santa Anna's army side by side. When the people living on the land prevailed, they established Texas as an independent republic answerable to no outside influence.

Well, the sad ending to all of this is that eventually the Texans lost control of their republic when it was illegally annexed by the United States government and eventually converted into a state. But to get back to the question above, let's step back and consider what might have happened had Texas remained an independent Republic outside the United States.

Well, we know what would have happened in Texas in a situation like that, because it had been happening for quite some time. Texas had come to be known as a place where people could come and live as free as they wished. American settlers from surrounding states like Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky began pouring in, as did Mexican nationals from the far away interior of Mexico who also wanted to live life far from government interference. All the settlers, regardless of origin, flooded into Texas because they expected to do better there than where they had come from. 

Now suppose the Mormon expatriates had settled into some part of the wide open area of Texas and that area came to be known as a location where anyone would be welcome to join them so long as they respected the rights of every other person there? More constricting states in the U.S. would begin to empty out, as their citizens headed for greener pastures in Texas, expanding the kingdom of God. But more likely, those states, if they wanted to continue to thrive rather than to be abandoned, would be forced to convert themselves into a more accommodating environment, the kind of truly free, independent states Thomas Jefferson had envisioned them to become.

The entire continent of America would have fulfilled its prophetic destiny as the shining beacon on a hill. There would not be just one free society existing in one corner of Texas, but numerous independent societies all over the land, and all thriving.  The kingdom of God has no central governing authority, therefore there would be no limit to the number of communities, large and small, living under God's law all throughout the land. Nowhere would there be found a hierarchy or central government to muck it up.

That is how the kingdom of God will break up and consume all other kingdoms; not by conquering the other kingdoms, but by subduing them. And how do you subdue a king? By removing his power, by providing his subjects with a better, alternative king more to their liking, a veritable King of Kings who tells them that they are free indeed. When given the opportunity, people will vote with their feet.

A tyrannical king with no one left to oppress is a king who has been cut off at the knees; he has lost his power. He has been subdued by the beacon of liberty, which almost all people are attracted to. This is what started happening to the great kings of Europe near the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, who saw their subjects fleeing from them by the millions to resettle in America. Those kings had to learn to adapt or die; to convert their governments from monarchies into at least something resembling democratic republics. Many did, and even though the conversions aren't perfect or anywhere near complete, they are a start.

Had the Council of Fifty not abandoned their charge to create the kingdom of God on earth back when they had the opportunity, the prophecy of Daniel would have been well underway by the time you and I arrived here on the planet. As things stand now, that prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. But the clock hasn't run out on us yet.

"Why in the world would Joseph Smith crown himself king? The whole idea behind the kingdom of God was that Jesus Christ would be the king of His kingdom, is it not?"

That's right. Jesus Christ is king. But there are two things we get to understand about Joseph Smith being crowned king: first, he did not crown himself king; he was declared a king by the men on the council. That's important to note: he was not declared to be King of the Mormons or King of America or King of the World. (That latter title is still held by Leonardo DiCaprio.)

Joseph Smith was declared to be a king.

Second and most importantly, we get to disabuse ourselves of our false notions regarding what makes a king a king.  We have been too long exposed to the history of wicked kings who never deserved the title.

A king is not supposed to be a ruler over other people, but a servant under them. Joseph Smith was declared a king in the same way King Benjamin was a king. Let's look at what kind of king this guy Benjamin actually was, and see if we wouldn't like the idea of Joseph Smith being that kind of king.

In Mosiah 2, we witness King Benjamin reminding the people that they never had a reason to fear him, that he gave them no reason to think he was anything other than a mortal man subject to all the usual infirmities of body and mind. He reminds them he had never aspired to be a king to rule over them, but had been chosen by the people.

"Chosen" for what? Chosen "to serve you with all the might, mind, and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me." Benjamin recalled the fact that he had suffered quite a bit in agreeing to spend his days in the people's service, and that during all that time he had not sought any payment from them. This was not a king clothed in fine robes nor rolling in gold and silver and living in a palace.

He reminded them that, unlike the ancient kings of the old world, he had never confined anyone to a dungeon, or made slaves of them, or forced them to make slaves of one another. He had never ordered anyone to murder, or plunder, or commit any manner of wickedness. He reminded them that he had labored with his own hands for his support and the support of his family, so that he would be able to serve the people without loading them down with taxes to support his own lifestyle.

What was King Benjamin getting at? Was he boasting about what a great guy he was?

No, he was not. He was trying to get across the simple message that if you want to serve God, the way you do that is by serving your fellow man. That's the only way you can serve God; there is no other way. You don't have anything Jesus wants that you can give him or trade him for. You dedicate yourself to Christ by dedicating yourself to the service of others. It's the only thing you can do, and the only thing He really wants out of you.

Jesus Himself was that kind of king, a king who served. Up until the time he gave you His very life, what was he doing with his time? He was alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than you, and when he wasn't alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than you, he was teaching you how to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than you. And believe me, no matter where you are on the rung of life, there is always someone needier than you on the rung below. Give that person whatever assistance you are able. (If you want to begin to understand the most noble service any king has ever performed for the benefit of his people, take twenty-five minutes and listen to this.)

But, you may say, "I just can't afford to help many people" or "I just don't have that many opportunities to help." Allow me to offer an experiment that has worked for me:

When my wife and I lived in Sacramento, circumstances were such that we simply didn't have much money to impart to others. I didn't leave home very often because my wife is an invalid who requires my frequent care. Anytime I had to go out to get groceries or something, I would have to slip out during the four hours or so in the morning after Connie went back to asleep, because the minute she woke up I would be needed again. So I tried something. I asked God that whenever I was out running some errand, if he knew someone I was in a position to lend a hand to, would he please place that person in my path?

Well, it turns out that there are a lot of people in need of rescuing to some degree or another. God started placing people in my path who were stranded and needed a ride, or who were hungry, and even some who desperately needed a place to sleep for a few hours. Over the lifetime of my marriage, I've brought home a lot of strangers for my wife to meet. The first time this happened, it was when we lived in Utah and I rescued an exhausted guy struggling to make it through a blizzard at Point of the Mountain at 3 a.m. Connie was quite alarmed that time, but since then she has learned to trust the Lord's judgment. On one extremely hot summer day Connie and I were in the car together and brought home an entire family from out of state that was stranded by the freeway. We kept them with us for several days, becoming fast friends in the process.

God constantly found ways to use me as His angel.  I recall one instance when I pulled into a thrift store parking lot and was flagged down by a young woman standing by her car. She chose me because I was driving the same make of car as hers, and bless her heart, for some reason she thought the key to one Ford Taurus could be used to unlock any other Ford Taurus.

She had inadvertently locked her car with the engine running, and her child was still inside the car. This young Hispanic mother was in a near panic; she didn't know what to do. She was understandably reluctant to call the police for help, because in her experience with police in that city, she felt she might be arrested for child endangerment and lose custody of her child. That was my experience with cops in Sacramento as well; in fact a Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy I had become friends with (a man who did not think highly of the Sacramento city cops), told me in disgust that when police in Sacramento respond to a call, they only want to know one thing: "Who do I get to arrest?"

Well, as luck would have it, I happened to have recently become acquainted with a tow truck driver whose shop was just around the corner from where this thrift shop was located, so I called him and he came out with his nifty burglar tools and got this woman's car door unlocked. When I explained the circumstances while I paid him, he gave me a massive discount.

But the point I wanted to make is this: in every case where I played Lone Ranger to persons I stumbled across in distress, something always passed between us that went far beyond a simple act of kindness. There was always a perceptible meeting of the soul, of two hearts recognizing each other as something more than simply strangers having a chance encounter. It's more like -how can I put this- eternal acquaintances meeting at long last. It's a pretty nice feeling.

Learn To Be A Butler
Joseph Smith was not intended to be the only person in those council meetings who was crowned a king. Every man in the kingdom of God was to be a king, which is to say, every one of those men was expected to provide unceasing service to everyone he came in contact with.

I happen to be the king in my own home. That certainly doesn't mean I'm entitled to rule over my wife (as if she'd ever let me!) It merely means I am my wife's primary servant, which, when you come right down to it, means I am Connie's butler.  I am literally at her beck and call, and I am delighted at the change this role has wrought in me. I'll tell you how that works.

For more than twenty-five years my wife has been seriously disabled to the point where she can do little for herself. She requires my constant attentions. Happily, Connie is not paralyzed, she can hobble around with the help of a walker and be transported to medical appointments in her wheelchair. But a lot of the time her muscles give out on her, and she is in constant agony, despite having access to pain medications.

A recent grip test revealed Connie has 37 pound strength in her left arm, and only one pound strength in her right. That's pretty weak, and although most of the time she can feed herself, there are times when it's easier if I do it for her. I prepare and cook all her meals, do the dishes and laundry, bathe her, clean the apartment (okay, I'm actually not that good about cleaning the apartment), and assist her with whatever other things she needs me for. Connie has a large cup with a lid and a straw that I fill with ice and water throughout the day, because she can't so much as open the fridge for herself because bending down even slightly causes her terrific head pain. It's been so long since Connie has been in the kitchen that I could be keeping another woman in there and she'd never know it.*

*I don't keep another woman in the kitchen.

All this is by way of explaining that God has given me a wonderful opportunity to learn to serve, something I was not keen on learning when all this began all those years ago. I had been the general manager for a large hotel chain, and my star was rising just as all this was happening to Connie's health at home. She was not yet thirty years old. Either I was going to have to give all that up and stay home, or my young wife would end up living in an assisted living facility while I kept climbing the corporate ladder at work.

After much soul-searching, I chose to stay home and look after my wife, and I'm ashamed to admit I resented the situation God had put me in. I resented it for quite some time. But ultimately I discovered the transcendent joy that comes from this kind of giving. I'll tell you why I think this matters.

Whatever we accomplish in this life, if we fail to learn unconditional love and kindness, we'll probably have to learn it in the next life before we can progress further. What that entails is up for debate, but I'll tell you one thing I'm sure of: you don't die and get to go directly to the celestial kingdom just because your temple attendance record is top notch. If you haven't sufficiently learned true compassion while you're on the earth,  you're going to end up going through some kind of additional trials until you ultimately get it right. That's what eternal progression means: you continue to progress. The final test before graduation, I believe, is whether you have the requisite capacity for kindness.

Here is the best part about looking after Connie: Number one, it's easy. Number two, the rewards far outweigh the effort. Because what I get in return for my service is undying gratitude from the most remarkable woman I've ever known.

That and a lot of praise. Like most husbands, I'm a sucker for compliments.

Not only do I have the opportunity of being in Connie's presence day in and day out, I also have the sublime privilege of serving as her protector and personal butler. Take it all around, this is a pretty sweet gig.

It's good to be king.

For the concluding chapter of this series, Click Here.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Church Ain't The Kingdom, Part Two

 Previously: The Church Ain't The Kingdom, Part One

By March of 1844, Joseph Smith had only three months to live. He left no record indicating he knew he was about to depart this world, but that didn't keep others from making up stories years later that he had been dropping hints.

What we do know about Joseph Smith in those final three months of his life is that he had been laboring mightily to lay the foundation for a socio-political system that would, in his words, "revolutionize the whole world." It turned out that the church he had founded fourteen years earlier had been merely a first step toward something much bigger. The result of his labors was to be neither part of the church, nor controlled by the church.

By this time, Joseph had very little interest in governing the church. He had turned over administrative duties to his brother Hyrum, who not only had all the gifts of a prophet, seer, and revelator, but was also the Patriarch. That office, Joseph said, was the highest office in the church, giving Hyrum Smith more authority than was held by even Joseph Smith himself. One of the things that annoyed Joseph Smith no end was that the members still kept looking to him for answers when they should have been looking to Hyrum. But no one seemed to listen. Church members kept running to Joseph with every little question or problem. Joseph Smith had bigger things on his mind.

By March of 1844, the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was exploding like never before. New members were converging daily on the city of Nauvoo and surrounding areas. Converts from the British Isles were arriving literally by the boatload, and in the midst of all this, the church continued to face the same persecutions it had been facing from the start. No matter where the Saints wound up settling, it wasn't long before their neighbors wanted them gone.

The fledgling U.S. constitution guaranteed the Saints freedom to worship, but it lacked the enforcement authority to make certain they were permitted to live in peace. The constitution only guaranteed people that the federal government would not interfere with their rights; it had no authority to prevent state governments from persecuting them. Far from offering the Mormons sanctuary and protection, the governors of the states of Missouri and Illinois had personally set their hands against the Mormons. So Joseph Smith eventually concluded the saints would have to move once more, this time to someplace outside the borders of the United States; some yet-undecided, sparsely populated area where they could create a commonwealth of their own.

A commonwealth is nothing more nor less than a political community founded for the common good of the people living under it, and the the key component of the commonwealth Joseph Smith was proposing was that it would not be a Mormon community. This commonwealth would be open to all people of good will. Whatever religion you adhered to -or even if you adhered to no religion at all- you would be welcome in this new community so long as you respected the rights of others to be left alone in theirs.

Joseph selected a council made up of fifty men which came to be known as the Council of Fifty, the purpose of which would be to protect the people in their rights and one day serve as the government for the kingdom of God on the earth. It was formed, in Joseph's words, for "the purpose of laying the foundation for a theocracy in preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ." In short, it was intended to lay a foundation of freedom that would eventually fulfill the prophecy of Daniel, who foresaw in the last days the establishment of a kingdom ruled by God that would eventually supplant all other kingdoms on the earth.

It should be noted that this was not an attempt to institute Zion. The Lord has declared that only He can accomplish that purpose, and in His own good time He will. Still, a noble attempt by any people to live together in peace in spite of their differences would have demonstrated to the Lord that at least some of His followers were preparing themselves for that eventuality.

This council was made up of both Mormons and non-Mormons, indicative of Joseph's insistence that the kingdom of God was not to be an auxiliary of the Church. Membership in this governing body would fluctuate over time, the hope being that eventually more non-Mormons would be elected to serve, keeping it from remaining top-heavy with latter-day saints. This proposed commonwealth of equals may have been initiated with the help of Mormons at the beginning, but it was to be a completely non-denominational and non-partisan community. Said the prophet,
"There are men admitted members of this honorable council who are not members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, neither profess any creed or religious sentiment whatever, to show that in the organization of this kingdom men are not consulted as to their religious opinions or notions in any shape or form whatever and that we act upon the broad and liberal principle that all men have equal rights, and ought to be respected...Hence the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man's religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the world in blood -when a man feels the least temptation to such intolerance he ought to spurn it from him." (The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty Minutes pg 97-100)
The prophet continued,
"I will appeal to every man in this council beginning at the youngest that when he arrives at the hoary age he will have to say that the principles of intolerance and bigotry never had a place in this kingdom." 
A Society Patterned After That Of Heaven
Joseph Smith and the members of the council of fifty were strongly convinced they were on the verge of something very big. The spirit of God was palpable in the meetings of the council. "It seemed like heaven had begun on earth," said one member of the council describing the experience years later. And indeed, that was the idea. The kingdom of God on earth was intended to mirror the kingdom of God as it functioned in heaven, as near as it was possible for any group of people to institute such a society. It would be done by basing the society on principles of non-coercion.
"So will it be when the purposes of God shall be accomplished: when the Lord shall be King over the whole earth and Jerusalem His throne." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 252)
Man's law had proven insufficient to protect the rights of all people at all times and in all places, so this proposed new kingdom would be based on God's law, not man's. That meant the guiding principle would require little more than what we know today as the moral primacy of basic respect: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

The full name of the kingdom, as given through revelation, was to be "The Kingdom of God and His Laws, With the Keys and Power Thereof, and Judgement in the Hands of his Servants."  That was a mouthful, so in the interim those tasked with getting the kingdom underway referred to their committee interchangeably as the Council of Fifty or as the Kingdom. In their minds, the kingdom of God was not something they were hoping to find in the next life; it was already present in the here and now.

We are only just now coming to understand the workings of the Council of Fifty and precisely how the kingdom of God would operate, because Joseph and the council decided from the beginning to keep it's deliberations secret until the project was fully underway. Outside of the Council itself, none of the other members of the church had the slightest clue as to the council's existence, or of the plans being formulated to find a safe place for the saints to remove to. They certainly hadn't contemplated the possibility that the vision of Daniel was about to be fulfilled right under their noses.

Secrecy was decided on because it was feared that enemies of the church might misinterpret the intent of the council as an insurrection against the government of the United States; but insurrection was the furthest thing from these men's minds. Sidney Rigdon explained the nature and object of the council:
"The design was to form a Theocracy according to the will of heaven, planted without any intention to interfere with any government of the world. We wish to have nothing to do with them. We have no violence to offer to governments, no rights to infringe. The object is to live so far above their laws that they cannot interfere with us, unless by violence."
"We will hunt a spot somewhere on the earth where no other government has jurisdiction and cannot interfere with us and there plant our standard. You need not fear that we desire to trample on the rights of any man or set of men, only to seek the enjoyment of our own rights."
So, why the secrecy, if the council's purpose was so innocuous? Rigdon explains,
"It is nevertheless necessary to be careful and prudent inasmuch as there is much disposition in the minds of men to cry treason at every thing we do. We may expect to have every specie of iniquity and mobocracy practiced upon us that can be; hence the necessity of utmost confidence and integrity amongst ourselves...We have been betrayed in times past, and we consider it wisdom to be careful, lest some pervert the truth and make trouble." (Council of Fifty Minutes, Supra pg 88-89.) 
The possibility that any Americans would actually quit the homeland and set up shop just outside its borders was not that far-fetched an idea at the time. As Nathan B. Oman writes,
"North America was littered with abortive republics seeking varying levels of independence from the federal government and from other competing powers on the continent." (The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History, Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith, eds, pg 57.)
Quite a few groups had done just that. In the early part of the 19th century there were autonomous collectives declaring their independence all over the continent: West Florida, for example, or outside Vermont, or the (almost) State of Franklin near the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains. And then there was that newly formed Republic of Texas down near the border of Mexico.

Deep In The Heart Of Texas
Among the possible locations for the founding of their commonwealth, the council had been considering three locations in particular: Texas, the Rockies, and Wisconsin. (At that time, Wisconsin was still a territory, not a state.) Exploratory committees were being assigned to go and scope out these territories and determine their suitability, when out of the blue Joseph and Hyrum were assassinated and everything got put on hold.

Texas had been considered by some to be the most viable of the three possible locations. Many Americans yearning for more freedom and opportunity had been leaving the states and pouring into that area for the past ten years, among them Davy Crockett, the former congressman from Tennessee who turned his back on his former constituents saying, "Y'all can go to hell. I'm goin' to Texas."

Wisconsin territory was only a hundred miles from Jackson County, where the saints ultimately expected to return to, so you would think Wisconsin would have been the logical choice for the Mormons to sit things out until the millennium. Texas, however, had a special appeal to many on the council. The Americans currently moving to those wide open spaces were known for their independent live-and-let live attitude. And those expatriates had already formed Texas into an independent republic of their own, so that was another plus right there. A republic is the equivalent of a commonwealth, and there was plenty of room to spread out in that republic, so the area seemed ready-made for a people seeking a place where they could make their home and not be bothered.

Some on the council even believed those Texans would make mighty fine Mormons and be a cinch to convert. To the extent that many of them were Christians, I'd say that might have been a distinct possibility. Mormonism under Joseph Smith was a very different religion than it later became under the autocratic Brigham Young. We might scoff at the idea of Texans joining the LDS Church en masse today, but it should be remembered that early Mormonism was much more accommodating to a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes than it has become in our day. As a final selling point in Texas' favor, both the white immigrants coming into Texas and the Mexican natives were known to be getting along swimmingly with each other, socializing together and often intermarrying. That was evidence that bigotry and intolerance might already be diminishing in that corner of the continent.

For reasons of his own, Brigham Young favored taking the saints to the Rocky Mountains, but he couldn't do anything to prevent Lyman Wight from heading down to Texas to check out that area as a possible landing site. Before Joseph Smith was killed, Wight had been assigned to go down south and scope out Texas, so Brigham knew he couldn't countermand that order. Still, Brigham let Lyman know he wasn't keen on Lyman making the trip, and admitted to Wight his fear that if it was widely known Wight was leaving for Texas, virtually everyone in the city would want to leave with him. So publicly Brigham Young attempted to undermine Wight's authority. Wight would have none of that, and effectively told Brigham Young to go to hell, because he was going to Texas.

To Brigham's chagrin, a sizable number of Mormons did go with Wight to Texas, and once they got there they all decided to stay. True to character, Brigham Young excommunicated his fellow apostle, but Wight didn't care. He hadn't recognized Brigham Young's authority anyway.

Still Secret After All These Years
Until quite recently, the minutes of the Council of Fifty meetings have remained locked deep in the Church archives, inaccessible to the membership of the Church. For reasons I can only surmise, LDS Church officials did not want the members to know what was in those minutes, so until now we have had no real knowledge of how the council operated. Modern historians came to know of its existence through mentions in journals, letters, private histories, and other documents, but they could only speculate about what the council might have been up to, and for what actual purpose it had been formed.

In 2014, Signature Books published The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History. This fascinating volume is a record of everything written by the contemporary participants in that council that hadn't been locked away in the vault, and it is a treasure trove of insight and information. We not only get first-person accounts regarding the council's activities, but in the penumbra of their writings we can detect some reasons why this ambitious project died before ever having the chance to draw breath.

In 2016 the Church finally released the actual minutes of the council meetings that had been hidden away in the vault, and now this volume of minutes, combined with the documentary history published by Signature Books, provides us with the background on what may be the most spectacular failure in the entire history of the Church. It was a failure that could have been avoided had Church leadership at the time fulfilled the charge given to them by the prophet. They let the opportunity pass, preferring to focus their energies on governing the affairs of a mere religious denomination when they could have been establishing the actual kingdom of God on earth.

Reading these entries, one gets a sad sense of what could have been. Here was unquestionably the most important role anyone in the church could have had the privilege of participating in, yet because of hesitation, inaction, and lack of vision after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, it never got off the ground. Our Mormon forebears had the opportunity to at least attempt something unprecedented, to lay the foundation for a veritable utopia, yet they botched it. The kingdom could have been well underway by the time any of us were born, and imagine the world we would have come into. Instead we can only lament the loss of that which never was.

You wouldn't know by looking at the LDS Church website today that the Lord condemned the whole church in 1832, and cursed it twelve years later. Mormonism today is one big PR party, with leaders assuring the members that all is well in Zion.

Well, there is no Zion yet, and all is not well in the Church. Those who came before us had the chance to redeem themselves by making Christ their king, but they didn't, and today we see the evidence of those cursings. The kingdom of heaven remains stillborn and Church attendance continues to shrink. If the members of the Council of Fifty had tried and failed, it would be one thing, but they didn't even try. They fell into bickering over petty details, until eventually the whole idea was abandoned as Brigham Young turned Utah not into a theocracy, but into an autocracy with himself at the head and everyone below expected to obey him.

But that's a story for another time. Join me here later this month when I'll provide part three of this discussion, and hopefully that will wrap this up. In the meantime, I can't stress enough the importance of this heretofore hidden episode of Church history. Forget everything else you've been studying about Mormon history; this is the real story right here. The formation of the kingdom of God is what the entire history of the Church had been leading up to before it crashed on the launch pad. The story of the Council of Fifty gives us a fascinating glimpse into what could have been. But just as important, no member of the Church can have a complete picture of what the Lord had in mind for the Restoration who does not avail himself of at least a passing knowledge of this episode in our history.

So, to conclude with some recommendations:

I don't have a favorite among the following three books, because I believe each of them is an essential part of the whole if one is seeking an understanding of this unfinished episode of Mormon history.  For those seeking a very good overview without getting bogged down by the minutiae of the minutes, there's The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History. Weighing in at less than 200 pages, This is a collection of essays from LDS scholars who have already waded through the minutes of the council so you don't have to. It is arranged roughly by topics such as The Separatist Impulse; Injustices Leading to the Creation of the Council of Fifty; Constitution Writing in the counsel of Fifty; Lost Teachings of Joseph Smith; and more. Plus photos.

Next, I recommend Signature Books' The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, edited by Jedediah Rogers. Here you'll find a complete history of what we know about the council in the words of those who were part of it. This volume will give you more of a narrative read, which you can't really get from the minutes. I highly recommend this one for those wanting to dig a little deeper while still not ready to bite into the big book. The Forward and Preface are invaluable summaries, plus you get a list of every member of the council along with a short bio of each. This is helpful, because although some of the names are familiar (all twelve apostles sat on the council), there are several people among that group of fifty-plus you may not have heard of. With maps and pictures.

Finally, the main course, The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty Minutes. This is the big one, and it's chock full of intimate details regarding what was discussed at these meetings and why. Even the editors of the multi-volume Joseph Smith Papers strongly suggest that if you can only afford one book from the set, this is the one you should have. The discussions of how the kingdom should be established are extremely insightful, but there is one caveat: we don't always get every word that was spoken in these meetings. Sometimes the recorder merely tells us that Joseph Smith lectured at length to the council, and he leaves it at that. He doesn't tell us anything about what Joseph actually said. It can be maddening wondering what insights and explanations we are missing from the mouth of the prophet, but unfortunately it is what it is. There are still plenty of instances where the recorder provides us with every word, and for that we can be grateful. With maps, photos, drawings, and tables.

One final source, and this one is not only an excellent analysis of the Council of Fifty, it's also available online for free. This is Denver Snuffer's seven part treatise on the kingdom of God, and how the Saints let it slip through their fingers. The advantage of reading this piece first is that Denver provides context as well as plenty of pertinent quotations, all in seven short, easy-to-read segments. This is Denver's series titled "All or Nothing," which, although primarily about the kingdom of heaven, will also provide the reader with an understanding of what will be required of a people who wish to establish themselves as a Zion community. Essential reading.

Check back here later this month when we'll discuss what we lost and how it's still not too late to get some of it back. We're all very fortunate to have a God who believes in giving His people second chances.

Click Here For Part Three of The Church Ain't The Kingdom 

Extra Added Bonus Feature
For your further edification, I present a photograph of Council of Fifty member John Van Cott, who will be remembered as the guy who wore his beard on top of his head to keep from running afoul of the BYU Honor Code.