Tonight’s episode features a walk through the Mormon History Department. In a corner of the Department is a closet crammed with skeletons. One of the largest and most shiver-inducing of these is the Adam God skeleton. During this program, we will open the closet door and allow this creaky specimen out for a bit to stretch his legs and get some fresh air.
But have no fear. We will keep him under close watch during the entirety of these proceedings. He will not be allowed to escape and run free over meadow and lawn, wreaking terror and havoc on unsuspecting testimonies.
During the course of his herky-jerky perambulation, we will have the opportunity to take his measure and consider how it is that he got stuck in the closet in the first place. And why it is that hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year when he bestrode the Mormon world like a Colossus.
But first, a word from our sponsor.
Did the Adam God Doctrine Ever Really Exist?
The answer to this question is an unqualified yes. Though it would be impossible to discover this through the perusal of modern LDS correlated curricula, the Adam God Doctrine was at one time a significant and frequently repeated teaching of Mormonism.
Brigham Young first publicly announced the Adam God Doctrine in 1852, and repeated it many times and in many venues for the next 25-years of his life. Shortly before he died in 1877, Brigham Young had the Adam God Doctrine incorporated into the temple endowment, where it was described in the Lecture at the Veil at the St. George Temple. It is believed by some to have remained a feature of the LDS temple endowment until around 1904 when it was quietly removed. If so, the Adam God Doctrine was taught in the LDS Church not only by its highest authority, but also in its holiest precincts, for half a century.
What is the Adam God Doctrine?
Whole books have been written about this subject. But fortunately for us, the Lecture at the Veil of the St. George Temple contains a brief and concise statement of the subject, which will serve our purpose nicely.
Adam was an immortal being when he came on this earth; He had lived on an earth similar to ours; he had received the Priesthood and the keys thereof, and had been faithful in all things and gained his resurrection and his exaltation, and was crowned with glory, immortality and eternal lives, and was numbered with the Gods for such he became through his faithfulness, and had begotten all the spirit that was to come to this earth. And Eve our common mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world. And when this earth was organized by Elohim, Jehovah and Michael, who is Adam our common father, Adam and Eve had the privilege to continue the work of progression, consequently came to this earth and commenced the great work of forming tabernacles for those spirits to dwell in, … Father Adam’s oldest son (Jesus the Saviour) who is the heir of the family, is father Adam’s first begotten in the spirit world, who according to the flesh is the only begotten as it is written.
Why a Cover-Up?
The teaching of the LDS Church in this regard began to take a different tack in the early 20th Century. This different tack would lead to the current version taught throughout the Church, which is presumably familiar to all who read this. For any not in the know, the current version posits Adam as simply one of Heavenly Father’s spirit children, the same as you and I and the rest of us. As can be plainly seen, the current version is quite different from the Adam God Doctrine.
Due to this disparity, the LDS Church began taking steps to scrub the record of the fact Brigham Young taught something else entirely. It was presumably thought unwise to have one mouthpiece of the Lord saying something completely different from a later mouthpiece of the Lord—and on a subject as fundamental to the religion as the identity of Heavenly Father.
The Cover-Up Commences
The first step was to quit teaching the Adam God Doctrine. And Church leaders did that. As mentioned above, the problematic Lecture at the Veil was removed from the temple endowment, probably around 1904.
But more had to be done. You see, Brigham Young left a massive footprint of documented expressions of this teaching, many of which had already been captured and preserved in the Journal of Discourses.
To remedy this, another collection of Brigham Young’s teachings was compiled, this one devoid of any reference to Adam God. John A. Widtsoe was put in charge of this project, which was published in 1925 as the one-volume “Discourses of Brigham Young.” Now Brigham Young’s teachings could be researched topically by Latter-day Saints with no worries they would learn anything disconcerting about Adam.
We will return to the “Discourses of Brigham Young” later, but right now I want to fast-forward to the 1970’s when several general authorities saw fit to scout the Adam God Doctrine and denigrate any who talked about it or believed it.
Vaughn J. Featherstone
In April Conference of 1975, Elder Featherstone employed a shaming tactic toward anyone who even talked about Adam God:
Another case is the one of those who talk about the “Adam-God” theory; I guess when they are engrossed with all these different theories, and things in the Church, they don’t have time to study faith and repentance. Maybe they ought to get back to basics. And when they understand everything about faith, then they can move on to the next principle.
So anybody who talks about this teaching of the second president of the LDS Church obviously needs to spend more time studying faith and repentance. Presumably because such talk demonstrates a lack of the former and a need for the latter.
In October General Conference of 1976, President Kimball gave a “carefully worded denial” that Brigham Young ever taught the Adam God Doctrine, and officially branded it as “false doctrine.”
We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine. [i]
Notable here is President Kimball’s unwillingness to come right out and say that Brigham Young never taught the Adam God Doctrine (though he does label it as “false”). Instead, the phrase “alleged to have been taught” is used in order to give the implication that such doctrine was never taught by past General Authorities without actually saying so.
This is sometimes referred to as having one’s cake and eating it, too.
Mark E. Peterson
In October General Conference of 1980, Elder Mark E. Peterson got into the act by giving his one-word opinion of the Adam God Doctrine—“Ridiculous!” But at least Elder Peterson did try to engage the argument, if only on a minor point.
The thrust of his position was that if Adam is God, and Adam had numerous sons (such as Cain, Abel and Seth), how could Jesus be considered God’s only begotten son?
It is somewhat less than a theological tour-de-force. But even so, at no time does Elder Peterson reveal that his argument is more with Brigham Young than with fringe Mormons.
He closes with this admonition:
If any of you have been confused by false teachers who come among us, if you have been assailed by advocates of erroneous doctrines, counsel with your priesthood leaders. They will not lead you astray, but will direct you into paths of truth and salvation.
Here, Elder Peterson indirectly calls Brigham Young a “false teacher” and an “advocate of erroneous doctrines.” Hardly flattering, to say the least. But this type of apostolic defamation of a past prophet was only an echo of what had happened earlier that summer.
Bruce R. McConkie
On June 1, 1980, Elder McConkie gave his “Seven Deadly Heresies” speech at BYU. Heresy number six was Adam God.
The devil keeps this heresy alive as a means of obtaining converts to cultism. It is contrary to the whole plan of salvation set forth in the scriptures, and anyone who has read the Book of Moses, and anyone who has received the temple endowment, and who yet believes the Adam-God Theory does not deserve to be saved.[ii] Those who are so ensnared reject the living prophet and close their ears to the apostles of their day. “We will follow those who went before,” they say. And having so determined, they soon are ready to enter polygamous relationships that destroy their souls.
Strong words. And Elder McConkie double-downed on his forcefulness when he said that anybody who even taught about Adam God would be “damned.”
You talk about teaching false doctrine and being damned. Here is a list of false doctrines that if anyone teaches he will be damned. And there is not one of these that I have ever known to be taught in the Church, but I am giving you the list for a perspective because of what will follow. . . . Teach the Adam-God theory (that does apply in the Church). Teach that we should practice plural marriage today. Now, any of those are doctrines that damn. (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p. 337).
Is Elder McConkie really calling President Brigham Young a heretic? That he does not “deserve to be saved”? That because he taught Adam God, he will be damned?
But wait a second, Elder McConkie may not know that Brigham Young actually did teach about Adam God. Maybe ignorance is a defense here. After all, Elder McConkie does say “there is not one of these that I have ever known to be taught in the Church.” Maybe he just didn’t study enough. He was doubtless busy with other things, like Church administration and damning people to hell.
Only such is not the case. Elder McConkie did in fact know full well that President Young taught Adam God. Elder McConkie revealed his knowledge in a letter he wrote to BYU Professor Eugene England on February 19, 1981 condemning England for teaching certain things in a church venue.
Here are the relevant excerpts from page 6 of the letter:
Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel. . . .
I think you can give me credit for having a knowledge of the quotations from Brigham Young relative to Adam, and of knowing what he taught under the subject that has become known as the Adam God Theory.
Well, this is embarrassing. You mean Bruce R. McConkie said all these unflattering things about people who teach and believe Adam God while knowing full well Brigham Young taught and believed it? Apparently so.
And perhaps more disconcertingly, it appears Bruce R. McConkie avowed he had never known the Adam God Doctrine to have been taught in the Church in spite of the fact he did know the Adam God Doctrine to have been taught in the Church. And by no less than the second president and prophet of the Church.
Down the Rabbit-Hole
I could stop here, firm in the assurance I had ably proven my point that the Adam God Doctrine was taught for an extended period of time during the last half of the 19th century, and that a systematic effort to cover up that fact has been perpetrated by the LDS Church.
And I would stop here. Except it goes so much deeper. In fact, the smoke-screen continues right up to the recent Priesthood/Relief Society manual on the teachings of Brigham Young, produced by the LDS Church for the learning and edification of its members.
But it seems there are some things about the teachings of Brigham Young the LDS Church does not want its members to learn. And if you have gotten this far, five will get you ten you know exactly what they are.
In the interests of time, I will restrict myself to two examples. Time for the skeletonic constitutional is growing short, and our decomposed comrade has to be getting back into the closet pretty soon.
What Does the New Manual Say Brigham Young Taught About Adam?
In the single instance where the manual quotes Brigham Young’s views relating to Adam, we have the following:
Adam. God was once known on the earth among his children … as we know one another. Adam was as conversant with his Father who placed him upon this earth as we are conversant with our earthly parents. The Father frequently came to visit his son Adam, and talked and walked with him; and the children of Adam were more or less acquainted with him, and the things that pertain to God and to heaven were as familiar among mankind in the first ages of their existence on the earth, as … our gardens are to our wives and children, or as the road to the Western Ocean is to the experienced traveler [see Moses 3:15–21; 4:14–30; 5:4–5, 9, 12; 6:51] (DBY, 104).
It was a gutsy move on the part of the editors to include this quote, because it is difficult to find anything from Brigham Young on the subject of Adam without at least some reference to the Adam God Doctrine close at hand.
And this quote, as it turns out, is no different.
Aye, There’s the Rub!
You will note I have bolded the word “him” in the above quote from the manual. That is because the word “him” does not occur in the original address by Brigham Young.
In fact, the word “him” is put there to replace an entire clause. And the deleted clause implicates the Adam God Doctrine.
Here is the same quote from the Journal of Discourses (9:148) in its original form. I have taken the liberty of bolding the deleted phrase:
Adam was as conversant with his Father who placed him upon this earth as we are conversant with our earthly parents. The Father frequently came to visit his son Adam, and talked and walked with him; and the children of Adam were more or less acquainted with [their Grandfather, and their children were more or less acquainted with their Great-Grandfather;] and the things that pertain to God and to heaven were as familiar among mankind, in the first ages of their existence on the earth, as these mountains are to our mountain boys, as our gardens are to our wives and children, or as the road to the Western Ocean is to the experienced traveler.
Why was this phrase deleted? Because it necessarily implicates the Adam God Doctrine. How so? It will be recalled that Brigham Young taught God was the father (both body and spirit) of Adam, and that Adam then became father (both body and spirit) of all those who live on the earth.
Hence, God was Adam’s father. That much fits with current teaching. But only in the Adam God Doctrine can Adam’s children refer to God as their “Grandfather,” and their children refer to God as their “Great-Grandfather.”
It is obvious this phrase had to go. By deleting this phrase, Brigham Young could be made to appear as if he taught current correlated doctrine regarding God and Adam.
But it wasn’t the editors of the manual that did the original deletion. That honor goes to John A. Widtsoe, who edited the 1925 volume, “Discourses of Brigham Young.” (I told you I would get back to it!)
Widtsoe used the Journal of Discourses sermon as his source, but edited out the offending phrase leaving no trace of his skullduggery. As I mentioned, one of the primary purposes for the new collection of Brigham Young’s teachings appears to have been scrubbing the record of any Adam God material.
But to Widtsoe’s credit, at least he scrupulously provided citations to the Journal of Discourses from which he obtained the quotation. And that was volume 9, page 148. This allowed anyone sufficiently curious (and with access to the Journal of Discourses) to go back and check his work. And discover the deletion.
But this doctored quote came to have a life of its own. Why? Because it became valuable as an apparent instance of Brigham Young’s teaching the current doctrine of Adam’s relation to God.
Prevarications to Gospel Questions?
As such, it made a guest appearance in Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Answers to Gospel Questions,” volume 5, (1966). There, Joseph Fielding Smith responded to a question regarding whether Brigham Young taught the Adam God Doctrine, and how that could be when it is plainly in contradiction to what Joseph Fielding Smith taught on the subject.
Joseph Fielding Smith attempted to provide an alternate explanation to what Brigham Young said in his 1852 discourse, then rapidly segued into another argument. The other argument was that Brigham Young could not possibly have believed the Adam God Doctrine because, in other instances, he plainly taught the current orthodox teaching.
“Now let me present one or two expressions in other discourses by President Young—of course, the critics never think of referring to these.”
Guess what quote from Brigham Young is first used by Joseph Fielding Smith to establish his proposition?
Bingo! It is the doctored quote from “Discourses of Brigham Young.”
So here we have the strange spectacle of Joseph Fielding Smith using a quote from Brigham Young that originally taught the Adam God Doctrine as proof that Brigham Young never taught the Adam God Doctrine.
Of course, the critics would never think of referring to this.
And it is this same doctored quote that makes its way into the recent Church manual. Now it is true that the manual cites to DBY (“Discourses of Brigham Young”) for the quote, and it is true that the quote was already doctored when it appeared in DBY.
But am I really expected to believe that the historians that compiled the Brigham Young quotes for the manual didn’t know everything about it I have revealed here? I mean, I am no historian and it took me less than half an hour to track down.
No, I feel confident the Adam God cover-up proceeds apace to the present day.
One more example from the manual should cement the case.
How to Completely Misrepresent a Prophet
We find this quote regarding “Father in Heaven” in the Brigham Young manual:
Our Father in Heaven begat all the spirits that ever were, or ever will be, upon this earth [see Hebrews 12:9]; and they were born spirits in the eternal world. Then the Lord by his power and wisdom organized the mortal tabernacle of man. We were made first spiritual, and afterwards temporal (DBY, 24).
Nothing unusual here. All standard current LDS doctrine.
But there’s a catch. And it is almost too incredible to believe.
In an act of unmitigated hutzpah, the Church carved this quote out of the very middle of the most famous pronouncement Brigham Young ever gave of the Adam God Doctrine. It is from the 1852 sermon where Brigham Young first proclaimed the doctrine publicly.
Here is the very next sentence from the sermon after the portion quoted in the manual:
Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! about whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later.[iii]
In completely decontextualizing the quote from its Adam God moorings, the manual again follows the lead of Widstoe in “Discourses of Brigham Young.”
But this is remarkable. In an attempt to demonstrate Brigham Young’s orthodoxy, the manual lifts this one snippet from the most famous Adam God discourse on record. And the manual makes no mention of the fact that, when Brigham Young says that “our Father in Heaven begat all the spirits that ever were” upon this earth, he is talking about Adam!
I am shocked! Shocked that anyone would think there is a cover-up going on here!
Damnation, Damnation, Who’s Got the Damnation?
We have seen that Elder McConkie taught not only that those who believe the Adam God Doctrine “do not deserve to be saved,” but that those who teach it will be “damned.”
This type of language is matched only by Brigham Young on the other side of the coin, who taught that Mormons must be careful before making light of “these doctrines” or treat them with indifference, “for they will prove their salvation or damnation.”
This causes quite the conundrum. This is no light matter for Mormons. Getting this Adam God thing right is infinitely important. Nothing less than our eternal salvation or damnation hangs in the balance.
The contradiction could not be more stark.
Little wonder, then, that the LDS Church has decided not just to maintain radio silence on the issue, but to do its level-headed best to expunge the Adam God skeleton from current correlated materials.
Did Bruce R. McConkie throw Joseph Fielding Smith Under the Bus?
It will be recalled that, in his “Answers to Gospel Questions,” Joseph Fielding Smith provided what can only be described as a lengthy denial that Brigham Young taught the Adam God Doctrine. There, he stated, “I maintain that in this President Brigham Young is consistent with the facts and with the teachings in the scriptures,” and, “President Young’s statement is perfectly consistent with that which has been revealed,” and, “President Brigham Young is in perfect accord with the teachings in the Bible.”
And yet, in his letter to Eugene England (again on page 6), Bruce R. McConkie reveals the following regarding the sentiments of his father-in-law.
I think you can give me credit for having a knowledge of the quotations from Brigham Young relative to Adam, and of knowing what he taught under the subject that has become known as the Adam God Theory. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that Brigham Young will have to make his own explanations on the points there involved.
This admission raises an interesting question–Why would Joseph Fielding Smith think Brigham Young would have to make his own explanations about the Adam God Doctrine if, as Joseph Fielding Smith maintained in “Answers to Gospel Questions,” Brigham Young never taught the Adam God Doctrine in the first place?
Something isn’t adding up here.
It appears Bruce R. McConkie was not alone in publicly proclaiming one thing while privately saying another on this issue.
And that Elder McConkie may have inadvertently given his father-in-law a slight nudge from the top of a long flight of stairs.
Well, I fear we have worn out our welcome with the Church History department. Security has been alerted to our presence, two beefy and glaring guards are walking this way, and our calcified friend must be put back into the closet before things get out of hand.
I hope he has enjoyed his brief bout of freedom, though. In this short span, we have learned that our grisly chum was not always relegated to the closet. He was once clothed with flesh and sinew the same as you and I. And for a period of some fifty-years, he strutted and fretted his hour upon the Mormon stage, and then was heard no more.
The story of his sequestration and subsequent cover-up is now a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying . . . something?
“All right, that’s enough. Back into the closet with you. And no biting!”
[i] This quote from President Kimball resurfaces in 2003, when BYU Professor Robert L. Millet is writing a review of John Krakauer’s book, “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Krakauer let slip the fact Brigham Young taught about Adam God, and Robert L. Millet wanted to put the cat back in the bag, or the skeleton back in the closet.
In order to do so, Millet does not engage the argument. He does not discuss the facts. Instead, he minimizes the importance of the teaching and then simply quotes President Kimball’s 1976 repudiation as the final word on the subject. Probably safer that way, all told.
[ii] The bolded phrase was softened to “has no excuse whatever for being led astray by it” in the transcript.
[iii] Although this passage is lengthy, it is worth being able to see the carved-out quote in context, which I will bold below. The parts dealing with the Adam God Doctrine are underlined.
My next sermon will be to both Saint and sinner. One thing has remained a mystery in this kingdom up to this day. It is in regard to the character of the well-beloved Son of God, upon which subject the Elders of Israel have conflicting views. Our God and Father in heaven, is a being of tabernacle, or, in other words, He has a body, with parts the same as you and I have; and is capable of showing forth His works to organized beings, as, for instance, in the world in which we live, it is the result of the knowledge and infinite wisdom that dwell in His organized body. His son Jesus Christ has become a personage of tabernacle, and has a body like his father. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Lord, and issues forth from Himself, and may properly be called God’s minister to execute His will in immensity; being called to govern by His influence and power; but He is not a person of tabernacle as we are, and as our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are. The question has been, and is often, asked, who it was that begat the Son of the Virgin Mary. The infidel world have concluded that if what the Apostles wrote about his father and mother be true, and the present marriage discipline acknowledged by Christendom be correct, then Christians must believe that God is the father of an illegitimate son, in the person of Jesus Christ! The infidel fraternity teach that to their disciples. I will tell you how it is. Our Father in Heaven begat all the spirits that ever were, or ever will be, upon this earth; and they were born spirits in the eternal world. Then the Lord by His power and wisdom organized the mortal tabernacle of man. We were made first spiritual, and afterwards temporal.
Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! about whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later.
They came here, organized the raw material, and arranged in their order the herbs of the field, the trees, the apple, the peach, the plum, the pear, and every other fruit that is desirable and good for man; the seed was brought from another sphere, and planted in this earth. The thistle, the thorn, the brier, and the obnoxious weed did not appear until after the earth was cursed. When Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, their bodies became mortal from its effects, and therefore their offspring were mortal. When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel, and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve; from the fruits of the earth, the first earthly tabernacles were originated by the Father, and so on in succession. I could tell you much more about this; but were I to tell you the whole truth, blasphemy would be nothing to it, in the estimation of the superstitious and overrighteous of mankind. However, I have told you the truth as far as I have gone. I have heard men preach upon the divinity of Christ, and exhaust all the wisdom they possessed. All Scripturalists, and approved theologians who were considered exemplary for piety and education, have undertaken to expound on this subject, in every age of the Christian era; and after they have done all, they are obliged to conclude by exclaiming “great is the mystery of godliness,” and tell nothing.
It is true that the earth was organized by three distinct characters, namely, Eloheim, Yahovah, and Michael, these three forming a quorum, as in all heavenly bodies, and in organizing element, perfectly represented in the Deity, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Again, they will try to tell how the divinity of Jesus is joined to his humanity, and exhaust all their mental faculties, and wind up with this profound language, as describing the soul of man, “it is an immaterial substance!” What a learned idea! Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.