In 1903, Apostle Reed Smoot was elected by the Utah legislature to the U.S. senate. Because of the United States’ strained relationship with Mormonism, a series of congressional hearings were conducted to determine whether the senate should seat Elder Smoot.
One of the witnesses summoned to testify was President Joseph F. Smith. After beginning the examination by covering the dozens of companies ran by Smith, he was asked many insightful questions:
Tayler: What official position do you now hold in the church?
Smith: I am now the president of the church.
Tayler: Is there any other description of your title than mere president?
Smith: No, sir; not that I know of.
Tayler: Are you prophet, seer, and revelator?
Smith: I am so sustained and upheld by my people.
Tayler: Do you get that title by reason of being president or by reason of having been an apostle?
Smith: By reason of being president.
Tayler: Are not all of the apostles also prophets, seers, and revelators?
Smith: They are sustained as such at our conferences.
Notice how President Smith refuses to answer the question directly. Rather than affirming that he and the other brethren were prophets, he uses a more lawyerly answer: “I am so sustained.” While this may be a point for President Smith’s honesty, it doesn’t look well for the church which claims to be led by a legitimate prophet.
The problem becomes more apparent as Senators McComas and Hoar begin questioning him:
McComas: I should like to ask one question. You say that the councilors are appointed by the president of the church. How are the apostles selected?
Smith: In the first place they were chosen by revelation. The council of the apostles have had a voice ever since in the selection of their successors.
McComas: When vacancies occurred thereafter, by what body were the vacancies in the twelve apostles filled?
Smith: Perhaps I may say in this way: Chosen by the body, the twelve themselves, by and with the consent and approval of the first presidency.
Hoar: Was there a revelation in regard to each of them?
Smith: No, sir; not in regard to each of them. Do you mean in the beginning?
Hoar: I understand you to say that the original twelve apostles were selected by revelation?
Smith: Yes, sir.
Hoar: Through Joseph Smith?
Smith: Yes, sir; that is right.
Hoar: Is there any revelation in regard to the subsequent ones?
Smith: No, sir; it has been the choice of the body.
McComas: Then the apostles are perpetuated in succession by their own act and the approval of the first presidency?
Smith: That is right.
What? None of the apostles after Joseph Smith were chosen by revelation? Not according to President Smith. This leads to a discussion about revelation.
Smith: I will say this, Mr. Chairman, that no revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon the members of the church until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them.
Worthington: What do you mean by being presented to the church?
Smith: Presented in conference.
Tayler: Do you mean by that that the church in conference may say to you, Joseph F. Smith, the first president of the church, “We deny that God has told you to tell us this?”
Smith: They can say that if they choose.
Tayler: They can say it?
Smith: Yes, sir; they can. And it is not binding upon them as members of the church until they accept it.
Tayler: Until they accept it?
Smith: Yes, sir.
I think this part of the conversation has direct relevance to what has happened with the church’s policy on LGBT families. Elder Russell M. Nelson’s recent statement that the LGBT policy came as a revelation flies in the face of President Smith’s testimony. If there was indeed a revelation from God labeling same-sex couples apostate and barring their children from full participation in church, then it must be presented before the church in conference for a sustaining vote. Otherwise, members are in no way obligated to accept it. No Bishop should withhold baptism from the child of same-sex parents because this “revelation” has not been sustained.
The topic of revelation continues:
Chairman: You have revelations, have you not?
Smith: I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations. I never said I had a revelation except so far as God has shown me that so-called Mormonism is God’s divine truth; that is all.
Chairman: You say that was shown to you by God?
Smith: By inspiration.
Chairman: How by inspiration; does it come in the shape of a vision?
Smith: “The things of God knoweth no man but the spirit of God;” and I cannot tell you any more than that I received that knowledge and that testimony by the spirit of God.
Tayler: You do not mean that you reached it by any process of reasoning or by any other method by which you reach other conclusions in your mind, do you?
Smith: Well, I have reached principles; that is, I have been confirmed in my acceptance and knowledge of principles that have been revealed to me, shown to me, on which I was ignorant before, by reason and fact.
Here Joseph F. Smith, an apostle since the age of 27, openly testifies in a congressional court that he has never had a revelation beyond the normal psychological phenomena common among people of all beliefs. Two days later, he again affirms that the Brethren do not have any revelatory gift beyond that of any other member of the church.
Let that sink in for a minute. Every time an apostle speaks anywhere, members of the church go full-on fan girl, tripping over themselves to hear from a “mouthpiece of the Lord.” What they fail to realize is that an apostle isn’t half a furlong better at receiving “revelation” than the lowest member of the church. They don’t have extra insight. They don’t have exclusive access to hot tips from God. They are literally just guessing and going by their feelings like every other member of the church.
Now here’s the kicker:
Worthington: What was the last revelation that came to the church from the one authorized to give it as the law of the church?
Smith: Well, according to my best recollection, it must have been about 1882. The purport of the revelation was calling to the apostolate or apostleship two men, who are named in the revelation.
Worthington: Who was the president through whom that revelation came?
Smith: President John Taylor.
Worthington: You say that was the last one?
Smith: I do not now recall any since then except the manifesto.
Worthington: Except the manifesto?
Smith: Yes, except the manifesto.
Worthington: Then do I understand you to say the only revelation that has come to the church in the last twenty years is the one that says polygamy shall stop?
Smith: Since 1882?
Worthington: Yes, since 1882 – twenty-one years.
Smith: Yes, sir; I think it is
Never mind that this contradicts his earlier testimony, here he states that in the 21 years prior, not a single revelation had been given to the head of the Church. That time span includes the entire presidencies of Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. Can you imagine if Thomas S. Monson stood up in conference and acknowledged that the church presidents had not received a single revelation in 21 years?
Isn’t continuing revelation the church’s pet doctrine? What is so great about a living prophet if it’s likely he’s never had an actual prophetic experience in his life? Members of the church love to speak in hushed tones about the supposed spiritual manifestations to which the brethren are privy. Well, over 100 years ago, Joseph F. Smith burst that bubble.
Even more recently, Elder Dallin H. Oaks told the youth that he has never had an experience like Alma the Younger (you know, having a vision, seeing angels, or seeing Christ), and that he didn’t know a single one of the 15 brethren who had either.
Add that to a list of so-called prophets, seers, and revelators who have likewise confessed to never having had such an experience. The list includes at least Brigham Young, Heber J. Grant (who admitted to actually fearing such experiences), David O. McKay, and Joseph Fielding Smith. That’s just the list of those who admitted to never having a prophetic experience.
(Now, Joseph F. Smith did acknowledge the Manifesto. This is interesting because the Manifesto was not actually a revelation; it was a smokescreen. After the Manifesto, the church continued secretly practicing polygamy until the Reed Smoot hearings forced Joseph F. Smith to publish a second Manifesto in 1904. During the Smoot hearings, Elder B. H. Roberts was asked if he believed the first Manifesto was a revelation. He answered honestly that he did not believe it to be a revelation.)
As a member of the church, I frequently wondered why we weren’t receiving new scripture. The answer was usually, “It’s because we don’t value the old scripture enough.” Turns out the true answer is that the brethren simply aren’t receiving revelations. And that’s just straight from the tapir’s mouth. As Joseph F. Smith himself used to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” (Improvement Era, 10:548)