The Catalog of Antimormon Accusations
by Woody Brison
This is one leaf of a review of "Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe" by Isaiah Bennett
Back to the main page of the review
[In the first vision, Joseph Smith was told] he must not join any of [those other churches]. Nonetheless, he attached himself to one of them in 1828. While he was "translating" the Book of Mormon, Smith joined a probationary class for membership in a Methodist church.5
65% of the way down the page
Bennett is getting at something here, but what? The argument would be that the First Vision never happened, that Joseph Smith created the story later. And this Methodist enrollment shows that it didn't really happen as he said. Joseph should never have joined any church had he really been told by the Lord not to do so.
Or, if he did, then he was a real goof.
The answer is that Joseph Smith simply did not join that church, or any other, until the Lord's church was organized in 1830.
At right is the text this accusation is based on. If we take it at face value, Joseph Smith was present in the Methodist meeting. The minister put his name in the book. Then a couple of the members came to him and told him he had to remove his name, which he did. His name was only in the book for three days.
Bennett tells us it was a "probationary class for membership", which would not indicate that he ever became a member; rather, it was the start of a process to become a member. Which he did not initiate.
It occurs to me that when the guys came to chew him out and demand that he have his name stricken from the book, it might have been the first that Joseph ever heard his name was in the book.
Note Bennett's wording: "he attached himself" which is different than "joined". Bennett must know this is a false accusation. But, he doesn't really state it - just sort of slips it in, sidewinder style. I don't quite understand how an honest person could consider this better than an outright lie.
Still taking the text at face value, these Methodists used this opportunity to rail at Joseph Smith for all they were worth. And it was not his agenda to gain respectability by joining their church; that was their theory. They demonstrated they knew next to nothing about him.
Now, this story was told by Joseph Lewis, 50 years after the fact, when Lewis was 72 or so. And from the wording, someone else wrote it down. If we allow some latitude that some details of the story might be incorrect, then there are two scenarios that seem possible to me:
1) Joseph Smith might have attended the class because his wife's family were Methodists - sort of a social activity. It does not mean that he endorsed the religion. It might have been once, or more times - there's almost no information about that, but we might surmise if he'd gone several times Lewis would have cited that fact. Joseph Smith might have gone there, once, just to see what they were teaching, show his face, let them see he wasn't a monster like they imagined, things like that.
2) The story might be combining a couple of periods in time. Remember that Joseph Smith said he "attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit" (JSH 7) and "In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect" (JSH 8). This was before the First Vision. The Smith farm was located halfway between Palmyra and Manchester; he must have visited all the churches in both towns, and maybe other towns nearby. The story, however, places the events in Harmony, PA, after his First Vision; that was what roused all the church people against him, and the story of his getting the gold plates didn't pacify them any. We have no way at present to assess the accuracy of every detail but this scenario #2 seems less likely.
There's no sin in attending services at another church besides your own. You are welcome to come to ours, and I've often been to Catholic, Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and many other churches' services, weddings, and funerals.
<--- Again, we sometimes have to clarify an antimormon accusation before we can refute it.
"...while he, Smith, was in Harmony, Pa., translating his book....that he joined the M[ethodist] [Episocpal] church. He presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, the absence of some of the official members, among whom was the undersigned, Joseph Lewis, who, when he learned what was done, took with him Joshua McKune, and had a talk with Smith. They told him plainly that such a character as he was a disgrace to the church, that he could not be a member of the church unless he broke off his sins by repentance, made public confession, renounced his fraudulent and hypocritical practices, and gave some evidence that he intended to reform and conduct himself somewhat nearer like a christian than he had done. They gave him his choice, to go before the class, and publicly ask to have his name stricken from the class book, or stand a disciplinary investigation. He chose the former, and immediately withdrew his name. So his name as a member of the class was on the book only three days. - It was the general opinion that his only object in joining the church was to bolster up his reputation and gain the sympathy and help of christians; that is, putting on the cloak of religion to serve the devil in." [Joseph Lewis, Amboy Journal 1879 Apr 30; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:300-306, quoted in turn in "Joseph Smith joined other churches", at FairMormon Answers. They also present a complete and competent exposition of the question.]
Notice another aspect of this "comprehensive presentation of Mormon teachings": Suppose this is someone's very first exposure to the story of the First Vision. Before they can even begin to understand the significance of it - that the Lord has commenced his operations to return to the earth - that there has been a Great Apostacy - that God is real - and so on - Bennett has instantly thrown some nattering little false accusation into the picture. The point could only be to distract, keep his readers from thinking seriously about the First Vision and its ramifications.