Playing Brigham’s Advocate

April 29, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 12:41 pm   Category: MMP,Mormon Culture/Practices

Brigham Young appears to be a favorite punching bag in the church and especially on the Bloggernacle. I read and interesting post over at Unofficial Manifesto asking “Is Brother Brigham our black eye?” Apparently many in the church feel he is on several counts, but none more so than on the now infamous doctrine he taught about Adam.

Our own resident no-fear blogger Jeff Gilliam recently chimed in with another kamikaze post on the subject. In his normal full-throttle style Jeffrey not only to posted lots of details on the Adam-God teachings, but when I questioned him about it he admitted it holds some appeal for him.

I have to admire Jeff for that honesty. It is horribly taboo socially in the church today to even bring the subject of BY’s Adam-God teachings up, but are we sure God hates it so much? After looking in to Jeff’s opinions on it I can say that even if Brother Brigham was dead wrong, at least he could claim his theory was not completely illogical.

The basics of the theory go like this: There are lots of Gods. The Gods who headed up the creation of our planet were three in a generation – A father in the middle with his father and son around him. Adam/Michael was that son, Jehovah was his father, and Elohim was the grandfather. The major twist is that Brigham believed that Jesus is not Jehovah but rather the Son of Adam/Michael. (I think the theory was that Jesus spoke on behalf of his Fathers via Divine Investiture of Authority). So there are 4 Gods in that scenario plus potentially others involved in earth’s creation. In addition I believe he saw the Holy Ghost as an office not a person per se.

Ok, so maybe Brigham was just plain wrong. It certainly goes against notions of the Godhead we understand today. I just think it is worth our while to recognize that his theory was not necessarily non-sensical. The biggest problem is that it is completely foreign to us.

No official revelation ever came from his successor’s to say Brigham’s theory was patently false, though there were documents officially backing away from its being taught. There are lots of practical reasons for the church to distance itself from it of course. It is so strange and radical that missionary work would be severely hampered by such teachings. Besides, since it was never presented and sustained as a direct revelation from God it is accurate to call it a theory.

Nowadays we mostly admit that we know little of the details of the identities and ancient activities on the Father and Son. That, of course is a good answer. But since we know so little of those details, maybe we ought to be wary of Brother Brigham scolding us in the future for passing such judgment on him for things we don’t really understand ourselves… He doesn’t strike me as the type that would appreciate being our punching bag.


  1. Talk about kamikaze posts, check out the A/G/E post. (A)dam (G)od (E)volution

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — April 29, 2005 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Speak for yourself: bro. Brigham has never been my punching bag.

    Comment by john fowles — April 29, 2005 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Just to make it clear, I don’t believe every haphazard idea that BY had. I don’t accept his views regarding Blacks, the moon or the earth. But when he specifically claims on many occasions to have received a particular doctrine by revelation I’m not so anxious to so easily brush him aside.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — April 29, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

  4. Maybe on the next post you can take up Brother Brigham’s belief in the inhabitants of the sun, to go with the moon men.

    We don’t have the bandwidth to post on every bizarre doctrine that came out of Brigham Young’s mouth.

    Comment by Lisa — April 29, 2005 @ 2:18 pm

  5. I attended an early session this morning before work and all of this weighed on my mind (BY & HCK writing the dramatic presentation and all). It is a testament to the durability of the Temple, but also the resiliancy of our community.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 29, 2005 @ 2:36 pm

  6. Brigham Young our punching bag? That’s absurd :-( What some people won’t do to get attention. The prophet holding the longest tenure of any in the latter-days becomes the punching bag because he said things, most likely quoted from JD (which in some respects is a questionable source). I am speechless. I really don’t understand the need of some to focus on what appear to be weaknesses, rather than the strengths of someone so great. Again, I suppose it is simply because they have nothing better to do than gossip and breed ill-will.

    I don’t have HC at home with me, but I recall reading the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words to the effect: “if you don’t accuse me, then I won’t accuse you. If you are patient with my weaknesses, then I will be patient with yours” (paraphrasing). Can you imagine the look on these people’s faces when they meet the prophet of God face to face, have to explain their own foolish sins to the Lord with Brother Brigham standing next to them, and then answer why they criticized Brigham’s weaknesses? I think what some are doing could be seen as disdain or mocking. In light of Alma 5:30-31 their actions are alarming.

    Comment by Mark Mason — April 29, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  7. Well it looks like the Brigham fans have come out in force so far. Lisa expresses a pretty common opposing opinion though.

    Obviously I agree that we should give Brigham more credit than we do. Having said that how are we going to deal with his Adam-God teachings? Mad-Dog Giliam took things a step further today over at his other blog. Jeffrey makes some pretty solid arguments in my opinion.

    But even Jeff recognizes there are some things we need to throw out. The questions is how can we tell where the bathwater ends and the baby begins…

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 29, 2005 @ 4:40 pm

  8. Sometimes the comments I hear from members of the church today sound an awful lot like what the RLDS church was saying about him in the beginning. Their argument was basically as follows: There is not one but two groups (at least) who claim to be continuing JS’s legacy. Are you going to side with the one who doesn’t seem to have any clue about the nature and identitiy of God or with us?

    Let’s face it, our authority as a church depends just as much on BY being a prophet as it does on JS.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — April 29, 2005 @ 10:20 pm

  9. “Let’s face it, our authority as a church depends just as much on BY being a prophet as it does on JS.” – Please tell me there’s a stronger reed to hold on to. From the JofD ramblings, to MMM complicity, the size of his harem, to his financial spoils of prophet, it is hard for me to see BY as much more than a petty tyrant.

    Comment by Lisa — April 30, 2005 @ 8:08 am

  10. Lisa: It seems to me that BY is the best we could get. He was a great colonizer and sometimes petty tyrants are best at what God called BY to do. He got the job done. He was wrong about Adam-God and not much of a scriptural theologian, but he was a great pragmatic theologian — and in many ways a great man.

    Comment by Blake — April 30, 2005 @ 9:13 am

  11. Jeff’s comment and Lisa’s response illustrate the problem we face with being dismissive of Brigham. We have put armies of apologists on the task of defending and explaning everything Joseph said and did but when it comes to Brigham it seems he has as many detractors within the church as he has without. But, as Jeff indicated, if we undermine the authority of BY we undermine the authority of Pres. Hinckley as well.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 30, 2005 @ 9:29 am

  12. Geoff: I don’t think apologists (that monolithiic bunch!) defend everything JS said, if by that you mean, “defend as literal and doctrinally binding.”

    Comment by Ben S. — April 30, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

  13. I guess I just meant that many seem willing to scoff or sneer at the things Brigham taught where they would be much more inclined to either defend or gently explain away more difficult quotes from Joseph. I’m all for treating the prophet Jospeh with the respect he is due, I just question why we stand for the prophet Brigham not being treated with the great respect I believe he is due.

    (BTW — don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of apologists for the church.)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 30, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  14. Lisa,
    That wasn’t the strongest reed I was trying to hold on to. I really consider BY to have been a great man. He was a bit authoritarian. He was racist. He was sexist. But he was also very smart and very inspiring. I believe that he was, despite his shortcomings, a very good man who was trying his best.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — May 1, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  15. Jeffrey, I disagree with your comment about apologists and Joseph. I don’t think apologists, at least most of them, have trouble with the humanity of Joseph or Brigham. Both were very flawed individuals, but achieved greatness through it. What I think many of us worry about is the old “baby with the bathwater” syndrome. Anything that makes us uncomfortable is automatically dismissed as speculation or error. Further often in doing this we discard things not necessarily tied to the uncomfortable teachings or behaviors.

    Personally I think there are far fewer problems with Brigham Young or Joseph Smith than many suspect.

    That’s not to say I buy the more extreme views of either. But it does bother me at how much is dismissed. Hopefully that middle ground is the more doctrinally safer. (grin)

    With regards to the Journal of Discourse. I think its “errors” have been grossly overstated.

    Comment by Clark — May 1, 2005 @ 6:05 pm

  16. I think you are responding to my comment, Clark. Your point is well taken. To be fair, in the original comment I did not claim apologists were attacking Brigham; rather I was observing that it seems that we have a lot more people willing to defend Joseph than Brigham. Maybe that impression is incorrect, though. (Or maybe I’m just more in contact with those who are less tham impressed with much of what Brigham taught).

    I agree with your assessments of the teachings of both of these men and the Journal of Discourses. I too think we can accept and synthesize most of what the both teach. That has been one goal I have been working toward here — to work out models of the eternities that include and jibe with as many of the teaching of JS and BY and their successors as possible.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 1, 2005 @ 7:21 pm

  17. I think Brigham was a very caring man. I don’t think he meant offense by any of his negative comments, and probably didn’t have much hatred (maybe he did, but he didn’t necessarily have any). Whether he had racist views is another question. However, I do think that he was inspired in what he did and that overall he had a tough job. To succeed the Prophet Joseph! To lead the Saints over so many miles! To establish Deseret and protect the rights of the Saints. Even Joseph had trouble establishing a safe haven for his people.

    Another thing – It should be clear that he cared a great deal about the wellfare of the Saints. This doesn’t speak to other parts of his character, but he worked hard and shed many a tear. I think he was the right man for the job, and I err on the Lord’s side in choosing him. Hey, David was rebuked, and others as well. Brigham has never been, and if he had been acting wrongly, it would be a great save-face, and not a crisis of faith, for a modern prophet to simply say so. So I err on the Lord’s side, I sustain Brigham posthumously, and I think you should too.

    Comment by zack — May 8, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

  18. I studied Adam-God after my LDS mission over the years, but rejected the Mormon Fundamentalist versions of it. Yet, I did feel exhileration when reading President Young’s actual quotes on the matter, so I kept researching the matter from time to time. Eventually, after reading Sections 22 and 23 of the Second Book of Commandments for a couple of years, I realized I simply could not reject these recent revelations. The understanding of Adam-God from these revelations does not contradict the previous scriptures.

    Comment by Richard — September 15, 2005 @ 8:34 pm

  19. This thread is dead? bummer.

    Comment by MrNirom — January 27, 2009 @ 1:15 am

  20. You only missed us by 3.5 years… but we’re still here if you have anything useful to add.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 27, 2009 @ 8:47 am

  21. Isn’t there an Adam Sr/Adam Jr variation on the Adam God theory?

    The idea being that the Adam who’s our God and Father (and the Father of our Lord) is Adam Sr, and the Adam who partook of the forbidden fruit is Adam Jr.

    I seem to remember at least one quote from Brigham (referenced in the Wikipedia article on this subject) that strongly supports his holding some such view

    So even if the simple Adam/God theory is heresy, would the more complicated “Adan Sr/Adam Jr” theory be a more acceptable speculation?

    Comment by Mike — March 30, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

  22. Mike, I believe a Adam Sr / Adam Jr theory could be considered completely orthodox, especially in light of Luke 8:38 and Moses 6:22.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 1, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  23. Sorry, that is Luke 3:38:

    Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 1, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

  24. But Mike, don’t get your hopes up with the idea that Brigham “split the Adam” (as Culley Christensen cutely put it in The Adam-God Maze). The evidence is very strong for Brigham believing the heretical version.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 1, 2012 @ 10:46 pm