June 27 marks the 178th anniversary of the murder of, and to some, the martyrdom of, Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church, the Mormons. By the time of his death from multiple gunshot wounds in 1844, Joseph Smith managed to attract tens of thousand of followers. He had founded a religion that continues to this present day with millions of followers throughout the world.
Joseph Smith has been the focus of many scholarly writings from Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Among Mormons, Joseph Smith is regarded as a prophet. Others consider him a charlatan who preyed on the ignorance and gullibility of his followers. The LDS faithful focus on Smith’s achievements and religious teachings. Others concentrate on Joseph Smith’s legal troubles, human frailties, and controversial beliefs and doctrine.
Joseph Smith may have been divinely inspired. However, like all humans, he had his weaknesses. Another point of view is that Joseph Smith was a “pious fraud” who believed that he was called by God to preach repentance and felt that he was justified in “inventing” visions and revelations to convert people.
Joseph Smith gave us another path to God. Because of his beliefs, Joseph Smith was beaten and suffered the pain and indignity of being tarred and feathered. Ultimately, a mob shot him multiple times.
Scholarly biographers – Mormon and non-Mormon alike – agree that Joseph Smith was one of the most influential, charismatic, and innovative figures in American religious history.
As for the Church he had founded, throughout the years, the Mormons have been the target of vicious attacks and persecution because of their beliefs. For example, the Mormon Extermination Order (Missouri Executive Order 44) issued by the governor in 1838 declared that “. . . The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state. . .” Coincidently, that order was rescinded in 1976.
Today, in spite of a history of hostility, the LDS Church continues to grow and prosper. Although there have been efforts to improve relations between the LDS community and non-Mormons; episodes of intolerance towards the LDS Church, mainly due to misunderstandings and being unfamiliar with their beliefs, continue to this day.
John Di Genio