Mormon Discussion

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Church of Joseph Smith??

A friend of mine had an interesting experience the other day in church. While singing "Praise to the Man" in sacrament meeting, she noted that her friend next to her was not singing. She asked him why not and he replied that the name of the church was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and he worshipped Jesus, not a prophet.

His point wasn't that he disrespected the prophet, but that in his opinion, singing songs that praised the prophet Joseph Smith were a form of worshipping him.

This lead me to thinking about my experiences with this song and with the ideas surrounding Joseph Smith.

I looked at the words of "Praise to the Man" in depth, which I usually don't ever do. I just sing the words in the book and we're done. However, there is a particularly interesting verse in this song that seems to give validity to my friend's friend.

"Praise to his memory, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame."

This sounds to me like a verse that could be sung about Jesus Christ as well. Interesting.

Another verse seems weird as well, when looked at in this light...

"Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know "Brother Joseph" again."

Here's what I found interesting in particular. Jesus died to atone for the Earth. Now the Earth must atone for Joseph Smith's death? It sounds as if we as a human race are in more trouble, so to speak, for murdering Joseph than for murdering Jesus. At least in this verse.

The chorus also seems to echo this similar-to-Jesus vein.

"Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again."

Jesus was a prophet, as well as the Savior. So this verse could very easily be applied to Him. And it would seem to make more sense to my little brain that Jesus would be very able to plan for His brethren after His death. However, is Joseph Smith just chilling with everyone else until the day of the resurrection? I mean sure, he's probably got a straight ticket into the CK. But, does that mean he gets to circumvent the whole plan and get exalted and become a god before everyone else? The song seems a bit confusing on that point.

This then lead to me remember when we've sung this song in church or at church functions. Almost every single time we've sang it, we've been urged to stand by the bishopric or leaders, no matter which ward I'm in. But, I don't recall a song in specfic about Jesus Christ or Heavenly Father that is consistently sung while standing. In fact, I'm hard pressed to recall a time ever when we stand in sacrament meeting to sing a song, with the sole exception being "Praise to the Man."

I'm not necessarily siding with my friend's friend. However, his comments did get me thinking. Do we focus too much on the prophets of old and current times and forget about Jesus? If Christ leads our church and deserves our most high worship, should we sing songs about mere men (and yes, the prophets are mere men--remember, they too are falliable and can make mistakes) that mirror so closely to the Savior? No doubt Joseph, as well as other prophets, was a wonderful, sacrificing man. But does that mean he is almost up to par with Jesus? I don't know the answers to these questions, nor do I know if what we do is considered to be "worshipping" Joseph Smith. But I thought I was something interesting to mull over.


  • I think special rules apply to hymns. We don't take the words at face value. They're allowed to be poetic and symbolic in ways that a lesson can't get away with. They are, in other words, largely uncorrelated.

    There are a few exceptions: God apparently does have some use for the drone nowadays. And saying "you hoo" unto Jesus was just too informal for even the hymnal. But praising The Man is still okay.

    Traitors and tyrants ... still fight that hymn in va-ai-ai-ain.

    By Blogger Dave, at 3:18 PM  

  • I'm not crazy about the way that hymn feels to me--it definitely feels like Joseph worship.

    If you look at this month's Ensign, it makes you wonder the same thing. On the month we celebrate the Savior's birth, why the emphasis on Joseph?

    Also, if you count the substantive mention of people in sacrament meeting, Joseph Smith, or General Conference, Joseph usually wins hands down.

    I believe we've gone Joseph crazy in the church, and hope we can tone it down some, and make it really clear who our God and Savior really are....

    By Blogger John Dehlin, at 4:12 PM  

  • This is one of my favorite hymns, and I like very much the way it makes me feel--always have. I don't see it as Jospeh worship at all. Clearly the extraordinary emphasis on Joseph Smith this year is related to the 200th anniversary of his birth.

    The Hymn was written by W.W. Phelps, likley not long after the Prophet was martyred--not sure exactly when.

    I think Dave has a point too about Hymns having some special rules, and not always taking all the words at face value. One of the interesting triva tid-bits about this particular hymn is that the original second verse reads:

    Praise to his mem'ry he died as a martyr, Honored and blest be his ever great name!

    Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
    Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame."

    See Deseret Sunday School Songs, p. 24 (1909)

    I think given the context in and around when this hymn was likely written it is very understandable some of the words used in some of the verses.

    By Blogger Guy Murray, at 9:15 PM  

  • I love the song. I've never stood in church while singing it, unless it happened to be a rest hymn in General or Stake Conference where we always stand. Does singing "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel" mean that we worship work? We definitely praise work in that song, even if we don't use the word explicitly.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 9:34 AM  

  • Jesus died to atone for the Earth. Now the Earth must atone for Joseph Smith's death?

    I think special rules apply to hymns.

    Indeed, Dave, those rules are called "genre awareness." A hymn isn't meant to be read like prose narrative. It's another reason I shy from exegetes who rely so heavily on the Psalter for their doctrine -- perhaps they're reading something there that is mere metaphor, but taking quite literally and was never meant to be.

    This happens to be one of my favorite hymns. It was penned at a time when Joseph's death was recent and when he was sorely missed by those closest to him, and tales and stories of his greatness were being compiled and recorded. It's the natural outgrowth of a mourning community.

    I sing this one as loud as a I can, yet I know full well just exactly who I worship. I mean, I sing song's about Jesus' atonement at sacrament meeting, but I don't worship Jesus' atonement. I worship Jesus, and appreciate the atonement. Same thing here.

    By Blogger David J, at 10:16 AM  

  • I've always liked this one too. I mostly think about how the grieving saints must've felt when he was killed, and how unfair his death was.

    I do think we often don't focus enough on Christ, though.

    By Anonymous Susan M, at 2:26 PM  

  • I do think we often don't focus enough on Christ

    I only tacitly feel this way. The church and correlation have had such a strong PR thrust the past 10 years or so to become assimilated into the Christian mainstream that many of our members shy away from that which makes us distinct -- Mormonism. Mormons aren't mainstream Christians by any means. "Focus on Christ" -- I'd like to see more focus on Mormonism, myself. So many of the Church's converts, my own wife among them, come into the church thinking we're a certain way, and when you get into the literature and begin exploring on the next level, one becomes almost disenfranchized to learn that one converted to Mormonism, not to anything mainstream.

    Yes, I rejoice in Christ and I worship him and NO OTHER, but really, isn't Mormonism just one form of worshiping Jesus anyway? I would say so.

    By Blogger David J, at 6:37 PM  

  • I agree David J.

    By Anonymous Geoff J, at 6:45 PM  

  • Almost every song we sing is extremely Christ focused. Even "Praise to the Man" mentions him tremendously. After all the man is praised because he communed with Jehovah. When you include sacrament, that's four songs typically about Christ. Then almost every talk mentions him extensively. Perhaps some wards are different. But I've just never seen a lack of focus on Christ at Church. A lack of asking further questions rather than Sunday School answers and mere repitition of cliches - yeah that I'll give you at times.

    By Blogger Clark Goble, at 7:34 AM  

  • Before I start, I believe there are some valid concerns about balancing Joseph compared to Christ. But, with that in mind:

    First of all, I don't think hymns are canonized. So I wouldn't worry too much about dissecting each verse and taking it as Gospel.

    Second, I think any comments paid to a strong religious figure could probably be attributed to the Savior, so I don't have a problem with this. He has the market cornered on virtue.

    Thirdly, Joseph Smith is a leader of a dispensation. I don't know if that means that the earth must atone for his murder, but it might. Along the same lines, he and the other Church leaders set us apart from other denominations, I think that can warrant one hymn.

    Also, I don't remember standing for praise to the man unless it is at a time when we would normally stand for whatever hymn was chosen.

    By Blogger John, at 4:31 PM  

  • Joseph Smith is a pretty cool guy in my book. Not singing Praise to the Man I think is ridiculous. It is a wonderful song about a wonderful man. That's my two cents.

    By Blogger The Bluths, at 9:00 PM  

  • I don't see how worshiping Christ is better than worshiping Joseph Smith. I mean, aren't they both just men by nature? If Christ is worshiped because he was chosen to be our savior and attoned for our sin, why shouldn't we worship Joseph for bringing back the Church, and becoming a matyr for his Church?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:27 PM  

  • Christ is a prophet and Joseph is a prophet. Just as Hinkley is a prophet today, I would sing praise to all of these men. In God's eyes they are all worthy of the praise. They are all great men. Not good men but great men. Anyone who believes in the great works that our prophets have done would gladly sing full heart about them. So ask yourself if you belive. I for one will praise to the man till the day I die. They deserve it!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:25 AM  

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