I was asked to share a brief testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in sacrament meeting last week. To the best of my recollection, this is what I said:
A prominent LDS scholars of the last century was asked in an interview whether his deep study of the church and its messy history had disillusioned him. He replied that he couldn’t be disillusioned because he had never been illusioned in the first place. I relate to that: I’m a convert to the church who very soon after joining was exposed to the glorious, crazy messiness of the history of our church, and so I’ve never had a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as Disney-fied or airbrushed or anything like that; my testimony has always been of a weak and flawed man who nonetheless did great things. I believe in the Joseph Smith who had a vision of God, but also the Joseph Smith who threw down a bugle in a fit of anger. I believe in the Joseph Smith who translated the Book of Mormon, but also the Joseph Smith who signed a letter “with utter contempt, JS Jr.” I believe in the Joseph Smith who organized the church, but also the Joseph Smith who broke a girl’s doll and offered her only a non-apology.
I’m grateful for my admittedly weird testimony because along with it has come some really significant blessings.
First, the recognition that God can use very flawed humans to do very amazing things. I also take comfort in knowing that God has a use for imperfect people, including me. There is hope for all of us. And we need to exercise the same charity and benefit of the doubt that we want applied to us. We also need to recognize our own limitations in understanding, per Elder Oaks, who said that he didn’t know what to make of certain elements of polygamy. If a weak and flawed person can do amazing, inspired things, then God’s power is very real. We might not be able to see that so well if the prophet were nearly-perfect.
Second, when you go digging in church history, you don’t just find the skeletons in the closet–although there are skeletons in the closet–but you also find treasures in the attic as well. As a feminist, there are two particular treasures that I appreciate from Joseph Smith. First, that he told the Nauvoo Relief Society that he intended for them to be a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day and as in Paul’s day. I wish I had time to unpack that statement! But suffice it to say that I love President Uchtdorf’s teaching that the Restoration is still ongoing. Joseph Smith also restored to us knowledge of our Mother in Heaven.
Finally, my weird view of Joseph Smith has protected me–protected me from the danger that in thinking that he was perfect, I might lose sight of the only perfect person, Jesus Christ. I bear testimony that he lives and loves us and sends us prophets–flawed prophets–who point the way back to him.