Joseph Smith said his name would be known for good and evil. Boy was he right. Dr. Larry Foster thinks the truth is somewhere in the middle and dismisses both strong critics and strong apologists who don’t recognize the complexities of Joseph.
Larry: It seems clear to me after more than 40 years of studying Joseph Smith, among a number of other things, that one has to separate behavior of a prophet from the teachings of the Prophet. Brigham Young himself said, he didn’t care if Joseph Smith did all sorts of terrible things, but he was still a prophet of God. That’s what was important to him. That was in the Journal of Discourses, by the way, I’m not quoting him [directly], but I’m just giving the general gist of it.
Prophets often are a little bit excessive in various ways, including sexually. But I’d say it should not necessarily be viewed as discrediting their larger teachings. Let’s take a case that is not religious. Isaac Newton was a really weird character, really, really weird character. He was also absolutely brilliant. He developed all sorts of ideas about celestial mechanics and how the world works. He was a man who is unparalleled genius. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the validity or lack of validity of his [ideas about] celestial mechanics. I think that we would be well not to assume that one possible defect of a prophetic leader, if that’s what it was, a defect, necessarily discounts the positive accomplishments that they’ve made. Right now, we’ve just had a devastating blockbuster set of revelations on Martin Luther King Jr.’s, much wider than we had expected sexual life, and it’s really painful for many of us, who highly regarded him, but he still was a great man. He did some very important things, even if he had feet of clay in one area. I think [that if] Latter-day Saints are serious about understanding Joseph Smith, [they] need to be aware that there is this problem with his behavior toward the end of his life. Some of it is organized, and some of it can be explained. But it’s very hard, ultimately. In Section 132, he reports something to the effect that God forgives him for any sins he might have committed or might commit in the future. That’s a pretty broad thing.
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