At many times in my life, I have had to grapple with the humanity in our Church's history—the flaws and weaknesses that come with imperfect people attempting to establish a perfect church and gospel. As I've learned more about early Church history in all its complexity, it has humbled me to realize that if my life were subject to the scrutiny of historians and critics, my faults and missteps could fill novels. No one save Jesus Christ lived a blameless life. Thank goodness we belong to a Church filled with imperfect people, because none of us could belong in a perfect church filled with perfect people.
Despite the comfort this realization gives me, I still often study and explore our early Church history to seek my own answers to difficult questions and see what its complexity can teach me.
One recent story that struck me comes from Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You can learn much about a person's character by how they respond during times of struggle, pain, and chaos. As men came to take Joseph Smith to Carthage Jail in 1844, the Prophet prophesied, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning.” He knew the dangerous reality of his situation. As Our Heritage explains, "On at least 19 different occasions, beginning as early as 1829, Joseph Smith told the Saints that he would probably not leave this life peacefully."
When faced with this reality, with persecution, and the possibility of never seeing his family again, how did Joseph Smith respond?
Our Heritage shares one brief encounter with the Prophet on his way to Carthage Jail:
"As the Prophet started out, B. Rogers, who had worked on Joseph’s farm for more than three years, and two other boys hiked across the fields and sat on the rail fence waiting for their friend and leader to pass by. Joseph stopped his horse beside the boys and said to the militiamen who were with him: 'Gentlemen, this is my farm and these are my boys. They like me, and I like them.' After shaking each boy’s hand, he mounted his horse and rode on to his rendezvous with death."
I find it interesting that in this moment of upheaval, the Prophet Joseph was kind to his captors, showing them respect by referring to them as gentlemen. What's more, while Joseph Smith's mind could have easily been distracted by turmoil, he instead took the time to share a few comforting words with boys many during that time wouldn't have taken the time to notice.
About the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Rusell M. Nelson observed:
"I was teaching a missionary discussion to a woman from Great Britain. I was teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ and how He had restored His gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. She really liked the teachings of the gospel, but she had a hard time accepting the Prophet’s First Vision. She said she could believe in the Restoration more sincerely if God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ had appeared to the Archbishop of Canterbury!
"Actually, the fact that the Father and the Son appeared to an untitled youth is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Restoration. Joseph Smith did not have to 'unlearn' anything. He was tutored personally by Them. Joseph was also tutored by other heavenly messengers, including Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. His mission in mortality was foreordained. His pristine mind was receptive. But, by worldly standards, Joseph was most unlikely. And his task to be the Prophet of this last dispensation seemed totally impossible. . . . This pattern is one the Lord has used repeatedly throughout history." (“The Lord Uses the Unlikely to Accomplish the Impossible,” BYU–Idaho Devotional, January 27, 2015)