Filed under Prophets
Was the Prophet Joseph Smith a Lazy, Immoral Person?
Many people have tried to attack the character of Joseph Smith, to make him seem like a liar or a money grubbing charlatan. They think that if they discredit Joseph Smith by pointing out his flaws, then they will discredit his teachings about God and Jesus Christ. Certainly Joseph Smith was not perfect; he was a man. In the New Testament we read, “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (James 5:17). Joseph Smith commented on this verse referring to himself and said:
I was this morning introduced to a man from the east. After hearing my name, he remarked that I was nothing but a man, indicating by this expression, that he had supposed that a person to whom the Lord should see fit to reveal His will, must be something more than a man. He seemed to have forgotten the saying that fell from the lips of St. James, that Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, yet he had such power with God, that He, in answer to his prayers, shut the heavens that they gave no rain for the space of three years and six months; and again, in answer to his prayer, the heavens gave forth rain, and the earth gave forth fruit. Indeed, such is the darkness and ignorance of this generation, that they look upon it as incredible that a man should have any intercourse with his Maker (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 2:302).
Prophets are people, too, and they are not perfect. No one expects them to be perfect, but they are good men. In the New Testament Peter and Paul once got into an argument and Peter even denied knowing Jesus Christ three times. Joseph Smith likewise was not perfect, but he was not a wicked person, nor was he a lazy and immoral person; he was a good, righteous man who did the work that God gave him. The accusations that he was lazy and after money are utterly false and can be easily disproven. If you study even briefly all the things that Joseph Smith accomplished in his short life of only 38, there is no way that he could have been lazy.
As a young man Joseph Smith’s family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, New York where over the next few years they cleared acres of land using hand axes and saws. To earn more money for the family Joseph and his brothers would frequently hire out as day laborers to neighboring farmers. Many neighbors recalled that Joseph was very hard working, and the farm house that he and his brothers built, which still stands today, is proof that they were not lazy. From 1827 until his death in 1844, Joseph Smith accomplished an amazing amount of things. He translated and published the Book of Mormon as well as other books and numerous pamphlets and newspapers; he organized a Church which by his death had nearly 25,000 members; he helped found numerous cities; he oversaw the construction of multiple large buildings including the beautiful Nauvoo temple. He started schools, even though he himself never had formal education, and even studied German and Hebrew whenever he could. Joseph Smith moved from New York to Ohio and from there to Missouri and finally to Illinois. He traveled throughout the United States and Canada preaching his message and even addressed the United States congress and a President of the United States. He was mayor of a city for a time and also owned a store. To do all this by age 38 is not the mark of a lazy person.
It is also easy to show that Joseph Smith was not after money and power, as some suggest. Joseph Smith showed remarkable restraint in his role as leader of the Mormon Church. He could have demanded his members build him mansions and put him up in luxurious homes, but for most of his life Joseph Smith lived with friends or in modest homes. Even when he had a home of his own, Joseph Smith was known for inviting others who had no homes to live with him. He also did not get rich from leading the Mormon Church, as can be shown by the fact that at the time of his death he was actually quite poor and owed some debts which he had been trying to pay off. (All of them were paid in full after his death by friends and family.) Joseph Smith never became rich and worked hard all throughout his life just like many of his followers.
Other people have tried to argue that since Joseph Smith spent some time in prison during his life, that he must have been a bad person. However, prophets and missionaries of Jesus Christ have long been imprisoned when they try to preach. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. The Apostle Paul was frequently imprisoned. He declared once that he was “an ambassador in bonds” (Ephesians 6:20). Toward the end of his life, Paul declared:
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep (2 Corinthians 11:23-25).
Jesus Christ himself was falsely accused, beaten, and executed, and so were many of the early his early followers. Joseph Smith was imprisoned because his message shocked people. He claimed that God had called him to be a prophet and to deliver a message for our day. People were offended at this claim, and as the Mormon Church grew, their neighbors became afraid of the growing Church and the influence that the Mormons could have if they voted together. These fears led to riots and clashes, and Joseph Smith, because he was the leader of the Mormon Church, was blamed and imprisoned, but in every case was found innocent.