The years 1836-1838 were some of the most tumultuous in Church history. Events included the Kirtland Banking Crisis, the Fanny Alger affair, excommunication of high church leaders including Oliver Cowder, Thomas Marsh, and the Whitmer brothers. There were lots of changing alliances and not only a civil war among the Mormons of Missouri, but Mormons had to contend with their Missouri neighbors who didn’t like their presence either. Dr. Bruce Van Orden, author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, describes how WW Phelps viewed these events.
Bruce: There are two possibilities. Either he did this totally out of harmony with God, adultery, as some people have alleged, or he did it with God’s approval. I choose to believe, based on my belief system, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that this was done, with God’s approval. But I think it was a mistake. I think it was a wrong thing to do.
GT: Oh, that’s interesting. I know there’s some question on the dating and I’ve just had a conversation on Facebook with somebody. He said the marriage to Fanny was definitely after the Elijah visit in April 1836. But I know Brian had thought it was earlier than that.
Bruce: No, I’m absolutely certain it was 1835.
GT: Okay, so you go earlier at 1835. So, Elijah hadn’t appeared yet.
Bruce: Right. Speaking of that, I mean, we make a huge deal today, in retrospect, talking about Elijah and the keys and the restoration and those four heavenly visitors in the Kirtland temple in April of 1836, after the temple is dedicated, all the restoration of the keys. They didn’t talk about it back then. They didn’t mention them. When the sealing went forward in Nauvoo, it wasn’t saying, “Oh, Elijah brought back the sealing. I’m doing what Elijah wanted.” He didn’t say that. We’ve kind of concluded that it has to do with Elijah, the keys, and that may be true. But this whole idea of keys and the restoration of priesthood authority and priesthood ways of doing things, they hadn’t got it all clarified. We now have it. “It’s this, this and this,” but they didn’t have it clarified in their minds.
GT: Well, and that’s been my big confusion because even if we’re willing to go with April 1836, which I think is still in a dispute, but let’s assume that’s true. Oliver was there with Joseph.
GT: So, how is it that Oliver would have been confused about that vision?
Bruce: I don’t think he was confused, and I think he was in harmony, and I think he was probably feeling okay about everything and Joseph was feeling okay about him, right then. Then, in retrospect, after he got annoyed in 1837 over economic and political affairs, then he remembered this ‘scrape’ between Emma and the idea of having this Fanny connected, cohabitating with Joseph Smith. I think he resurrected that idea and brought it up, then, again. I don’t think it was a major factor for him back in 1835 and 1836. It became a factor for him, again in 1837 when he thought about it, when he no longer felt he was in harmony with Joseph Smith.
GT: Yeah. So, that just became another issue between Oliver and Joseph.
Bruce: It’s become, in the eyes of many people, THE issue, but it’s not.
GT: You don’t think it was the most important issue?
Bruce: No, I don’t think it was.
GT: What was the most important issue?
Bruce: I think it was how they disagreed about what was going on with the bank, and then the animosity settled in. Then, Oliver said, “You’re trying to dictate to us how we’re supposed to live our lives with our property and how we spend our own money and how we buy and sell our property. I won’t stand for that. This is a republic.”
Of course, these divisions carried over to cause problems with the Missourians. Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce.