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Joseph Smith and the Prophecy of the American Civil War

An important part of being a “Prophet” is making “Prophecies”, so when discussing the Prophet Joseph Smith, it is logical for people to ask about his prophecies and their fulfillment.  And any discussion of Joseph Smith’s prophecies will certainly touch on his most famous one: The Prophecy of the Civil war.

Members of the church love to discuss this prophecy for two reasons:

1. It appears to be a clear, concise prophecy.  So often, prophecies are imprecisely worded, but this prophecy appears to be specific because it actually names a location.

2. It is canonized.  Most of Joseph Smith’s “prophecies” are reported in obscure books or the non-canonized 7 Volume “History of the Church“.  The Prophecy on the Civil War was canonized by the Church in 1877, so it is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, a “Standard Work” of the Church.

But is this prophecy really a “prophecy”, and was it fulfilled in the way that Joseph Smith prophesied it?  I say…no, and here is why.

First, you should familiarize yourself with the environment in which this prophecy was made.  Specifically, Joseph Smith made his prediction in 1832 right as the Nullification Crisis was occupying the national mind.  What’s that?  You aren’t familiar with the “Nullification Crisis” of 1832?  Here is some background.
Nullification Crisis

Nullification Crisis

Nullification Crisis

Then consider other subsequent parts of the prophecy:

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain,…
…as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
Ummm…no.  That didn’t happen.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
Ummm…no.  That didn’t happen”The recruitment of black men, including many freed slaves, into the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation was approved: towards the end of the war, the Confederacy relented, and began to allow Blacks to enter the Confederate Army, but this action was only a token effort. ”

More here…

History of Slave Rebellions

(Notice the Turner rebellion in 1831, with no notable rebellions during the Civil War)

More on Slave Rebellions…

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
Who are the “remnants”? Who are the “Gentiles”? When did these remnants “marshal themselves” and “vex” the “Gentiles”?

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
Honestly, by any reasonable measure, things are drastically better all over the world since the Civil War.And “end of all nations”….? It probably sounded foreboding in 1832, with the second coming just around the corner and all that, but 172 years later, most nations seem to be doing just fine, with little worry of “ending” any time soon.

So if I have to spell it out for you, let’s go through verse by verse and see how many specific claims Section 87 (the Prophecy on the Civil War) contains, and how many are “hits”:

1.VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
The nullification crisis of 1832 (just months before this revelation was given) provides ample context for this prophecy. Also, the term “shortly” is certainly debatable. But we can call it a “hit”.1/1 (Hits/Claims)

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
The American Civil War did not “pour out war upon all nations”. Not even Britain and France got really involved.

The open recognition, the active aid, the material and financial support which the South needed so greatly were never forthcoming. Europe refused to take a hand in America’s quarrel. North and South were left to fight it out between themselves.
That’s a miss.1/2


3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States,-and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called,-and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations;

-and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

Yup. Yup. Nope. Nope.3/5

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves,-and shall become exceedingly angry,-and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
Nope. Nope. Nope.3/9

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn;-and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
This is pretty dramatic stuff, but “all nations” seem to be doing fine, by and large. We’ll just say he’s 0/2, and not break down each prophecy in the verse.3/11

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
I have no idea what he meant by this, so if you can explain it, it could be a “hit”.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.

The “day of the Lord” hasn’t come yet. I’m gonna say that “170+ years” does not equal “quickly”, and call this a miss. You can stretch “quickly” as long as you like and call it a hit, but that’s more of a stretch than I could make and still keep a straight face.


So of the 12+ distinct portions of the prophecy contained in Section 87, Joseph Smith only got 3 right, and even that involves a stretch of the word “shortly”, and ignoring the contemporary Nullification Crisis as a probable “inspiration”.

In short, the “Civil War” prophecy would be the prophetic equivalent of (current LDS Prophet) President Monson seeing a weather forecast for a hurricane in Florida, and prophesying that a hurricane was going to soon wipe all of Florida into the ocean. Then the hurricane dies out, and nothing happens. 30 years later, a small monsoon hits Florida, and causes a little damage. Church members point to President Monson’s prophecy as being fulfilled, conveniently ignoring the part about Florida being wiped into the ocean.

Personally, I’m only impressed with prophets that bat better than .500.

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Which Questions Does the Book of Mormon Answer?

One of the greatest benefits to religion (and one of the greatest selling points) are the answers.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  Certainly, science gives questions such as these a wide berth, leaving the philosophers, theologans and prophets to provide their theories and argue amongst themselves.  Only rarely do these prognosticators venture into scientific territory, whereon they are usually summarily slapped on the wrist and sent packing back to their corner of the “human knowledge” party.

Certainly, Mormonism provides a whole bunch of answers to all sorts of questions.  The very foundation of Joseph Smith’s history was his desire to question and receiving an answer to that question.  Early Church members had many powerful experiences of having their questions about God, Jesus, the Gospel, and the world around them answered in a powerful way.

One of the vehicles of answers for the early Church members was the infamous Book of Mormon.  Not only does it illuminate on topics such as the atonement and the fall of man, it also precisely fills in many key gaps of colonial knowledge regarding the history of the Americas, and the strange brown-skinned peoples running around in loincloths upon European arrival.  Who are these people?  Why are they here?  And where are they going?  Early thoughts on these questions have been well documented by Dan Vogel in his book Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon (read if free at that link.)

But recently, it seems this entire scope of Book of Mormon questions and answers is slowly and methodically getting dismantled at the hands of Mormon scholars and apologists.  No longer do we learn of the initial colonization of the Americas following Noah’s flood (i.e. the post-Babel Jaredites). No longer is the Book of Mormon a record of the principle ancestors of the same natives early Church members were familiar with.  Instead, Lehi and his group are only insignificant contributors to the New World gene pool.

This shift has been a necessary retreat from the growth in knowledge regarding the history of the Americas.  As more and more becomes known through all avenues of investigation, readers of the Book of Mormon will slowly (or quickly) realize that the book they are reading is not describing the civilations and people being discovered by those who discover such things.  To this realization, the believer can only respond “Yes, but we really don’t know that much about ancient American history.”  Statements such as this are meant to present evidence by implication, as if by implying that we may find evidence in the future, we should ignore the evidence we have found already that points in a different direction.

But the issue isn’t whether we know everything about the history of Central and South America in order to find Book of Mormon evidences. No, what’s disturbing is the trend

175 years ago, pre-Columbian history was relatively unknown, and the field was ripe for rumor, myth, and supposition. You could create any kind of theory imaginable, with little fear of being “proven” wrong (unless you made some artifacts to go along with your theory). But over the last 175 years, quite a bit of research has been done. Certainly, not all of it. There remain many questions. But that’s not the problem.

The problem is, not even the questions are pointing in the direction of the Book of Mormon. In other words, the Church presents the Book of Mormon as the “answer” to questions about ancient America, but no one can seem to find any questions that it answers.

The Book of Mormon was once thought to explain the question of where these people (the Indians) came from, and why they had dark skin. Not anymore; even if the events in the Book of Mormon hadn’t happened, we’d still have dark-skinned Indians.

Some people thought it answered the question of where the great mounds of the mid-East came from. Not anymore.

Some thought it answered the questions regarding the great cities of Central America. But does anyone today really think those cities resulted from Book of Mormon migrations, and without Jaredite or Lehites, those cities wouldn’t be here?

So what we find ourselves with today is a shrinking book. As research and knowledge increases, the claims of the Book of Mormon must shrink to get out of their way. Theories once thought supported by the Book of Mormon are discarded when the unimaginable becomes possible: falsification.

As long as apologists can insist that we shouldn’t expect any evidence of the Book of Mormon, as well as refusing to develop any theory which may possibly be falsifiable, people will comfortably believe. And with the present state of research and technology, that may seem possible.

But where will we be in 50 years? If you look at the progress of one area, DNA research, over the last 50 years, can anyone imagine where things are headed? The last refuge of Book of Mormon supporters is that current DNA analysis isn’t precise enough to detect such a small migration so long ago. Perhaps. But what happens if the tools have improved to the point that such as migration would be easily detectable?

How many gray areas are there in the Book of Mormon today that are fuzzy enough for faith, that will one day be subjected to clear, unambiguous light? Can apologists change their tack quickly enough to keep up with new research, and will they ever find that the Church “parade” has continued down main street, while they’ve turned left on 3rd, and no one is following them, no matter how much they wave their baton?

If you don’t believe me, I can only offer you this experiment.  Find your nearest and most knowledgeable Book of Mormon scholar, and ask them this simple question (with these simple follow up questions):

“How would the New World have been different when Columbus found it if there had been no Jaredite or Lehite migrations?  How would they people have been different?  Would they have looked or acted differently?  Would their language, culture, or religion be any different?  Would there have been more or fewer natives?”

A century ago, the Book of Mormon answered all of these questions definitively.  Today, with the help of Mormon scholars, it answers each of them, but negatively and in the smallest way possible.  The Book of Mormon peoples didn’t make a noticeable difference in the long run.  If Lehi’s boat had been lost at sea, the New World circa 1492 AD wouldn’t have been noticeably different.  Why that is seen as progress in apologetic circles, I have no idea.


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Unusual LDS Youth Conferences in Texas(?!)

LDS Youth Group Scrambles to find Summer Activities
Scott Simpson, Rocky Mountain News
May 05, 2008

After completing a memorable four day handcart pioneer reenactment last August, the Young Men and Young Women of the Killeen, Texas Stake for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) were looking forward to another memorable summer youth activity. Their stake had been selected as one of the few youth groups to participate in the continuing “Know Your Ancestors” pioneer reenactment experience at the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch near Eldorado, TX. But now word has come that all youth conferences provided by the Ranch have been canceled, and they need to find a new activity.

Youth and leaders of LDS Church were looking forward to the five day experience, meant to teach youth about the early Utah pioneers and the trials they faced as a persecuted, isolated, polygamous sect. “I’m kind of disappointed, but I understand why,” comments teacher Bill Shapley of the Waco 2nd Ward. “The handcart campout was awesome, and it totally pumped up my testimony. I wanted to know what came next, and this sounded like a great activity.”

The YFZ Ranch, home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), had created the camp experience at the request of local LDS leaders, who saw the potential for an expanded learning and spiritual experience for their youth. In the last decade, reenactments have become popular activities for LDS seeking an understanding of the pioneer experience. Youth dress in authentic pioneer clothing and pull recreated handcarts over dusty roads, camping at night. Additional efforts are made to give the youth a dramatic experience, including giving young women “dolls” to care for as their “babies”. During the multi-day activity, the dolls are taken from the youth at random intervals to teach about the many young lives lost in the original migration. At other times, volunteers dressed in white clothing will assist the handcart-pulling youth as “angels”, to simulate the spiritual help often felt by their pioneer ancestors.

YFZ Ranch foreman Rulon Taylor shared similar feelings of disappointment. “It’s a darn shame. We had prepared a wonderful itinerary of frontier activities for the young people, along with activities to boost their spiritual knowledge and sensitivity.” Some of those activities included barn building, hand washing the laundry, digging irrigation ditches, and sewing long-sleeved underwear. Throughout the week, certain young men would be “called” to participate in pretend-sealings to simulate polygamous marriages. If youth were reluctant to participate in this aspect of the reenactment, volunteers dressed in white with “flaming swords” would visit the young men as they slept and “command” them to begin practicing polygamy.

“For the flaming swords, we got some really nice lightsaber thingamajiggers from the Wal-Mart Supercenter up in San Angelo. They make a dramatic swooshing sound, and it really drives the point home about how important it is to be obedient, even if you didn’t want to. Sometimes the best way to learn about using your agency to make righteous choices is to encounter a “sword wielding angel”, if you know what I mean,” Rulon explained.

The Young women would also have reenactment activities tailored for their interests. In addition to the laundry and sewing, some young women would be taken aside by their leaders throughout the week and be told they had been chosen to become plural wives to some of the adult male leaders. “Of course it’s all for pretend, and the modern LDS Church doesn’t practice polygamy. But it’s the doctrine that’s important, as well as the sacrifice of our ancestors” says Stake Young Women’s President Kelly Smith. “The Young women may become repulsed at the idea of having to marry one of the 55-year-old men in the Stake, and by the end of the week, they could be his fourth or fifth pretend wife. But think how Isaac felt as he was asked to sacrifice himself on an altar for the Lord. The girls need to learn that same kind of faith. After all, we tell them the salvation of their entire family might depend on it.”

A new addition to this year’s camp would shorten the stay for some of the young men in the group. Throughout the week, the camp counselors would select certain young men to be sent on “missions”, where they would be “called” to leave the Ranch and return home. The boys would be selected based on their spiritual development, or their popularity among the young women in the group. While they’re away on their “missions”, any girls they were pretend-married to can be courted and pretend-sealed to the older leaders and counselors at the Ranch. Additionally, camp counselors will privately interview young men and women as “couples” to see if they would be willing to pretend-seal the woman to the acting “Prophet” (in this case, Stake Young Men’s President Don Harwood).

Youth would spend their time performing chores, studying their scriptures (using authentic 19th century reproductions of the standard works), and leaders would conduct worship services by reciting passages from the Journal of Discourses, a collection of sermons from that era. The highlight of the week would be the final testimony meeting, where youth and leaders could share what they have learned, and how their testimonies had been strengthened. All public prayers during the week would be offered by the male leaders and youth only.

“When I finished the pioneer trek last summer, I just knew the Church was true,” said Trey Applegate, a priest in the Waco 1st ward. “I knew there was no way the pioneers could have crossed the plains and had their babies die if Joseph Smith hadn’t been a true prophet. And I was hoping this summer’s conference would help me to get the same testimony about my great-great-great grandparents in Utah. I’ve heard they’re going to have openings in the Colorado City programs, and we might be able to get into those.”

Rulon Taylor says all future activities are on hold, pending the onset of apocalyptic cleansing by fire and the end of times, ushered in by the anti-christ’s persecution of Zion and desecration of the Temple. “But if that doesn’t work out like we expect, we’ll start taking applications for summer of ’09 in February.”


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