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Monday, July 28, 2014

Questions for William Shepard, Author of Lost Apostles, Published by Signature Books

by Seattle Jon:

Signature Books recently published Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism's Original Quorum of Twelve, a compelling and interesting look at six of the original twelve apostles of the restored church. Signature provides this summary:

Before the LDS Church was organized, Joseph Smith received a revelation telling him that twelve men would be called as latter-day apostles. Their assignment would be to warn men and women that the end was near. Although the determination of who would fill these positions was delayed for five years, when it finally happened, God reiterated that these men were to "prune the vineyard for the last time" because the Second Coming was nigh. In fact, "fifty-six years would wind up the scene," they were told. Of the twelve men selected, nine would eventually be pruned from the vineyard themselves, to varying degrees. Seven were excommunicated, one of whom was reinstated to his position in the Twelve. Of the other six, the subjects of this book, none returned to the apostleship and four never came back to the Church at all. Those who left faded into obscurity except for when they are occasionally still mentioned in sermons as cautionary tales. But two of them made their marks in other areas of society, John Boynton becoming a successful dentist, a popular lecturer, geologist, and inventor with dozens of important patents to his name, while Lyman Johnson became a prominent attorney and business owner. Even though Luke Johnson, Thomas B. Marsh, William McLellin, and William Smith became religious wanderers and tried unsuccessfully to adjust to life outside of the Church, their experiences were interesting and comprise valuable case studies in belief and disaffection.

Rather than attempt to duplicate what's already been done, read Cheryl L. Bruno's comprehensive and well-written review of Lost Apostles. For this post, as I did with Signature's Cowboy Apostle, I've asked one of the authors a few questions that came to mind as I read the book.

Seattle Jon: Why write Lost Apostles?

William Shepard: I have been a student of Mormon history for many years and have developed standards for myself in spite of my up-bringing. That is, as a Strangite, I was weaned on the belief the Brighamites and Josephites were wrong, and of course, James J. Strang and his fellows were beyond reproach. Having shed this attitude some fifty years ago, I developed the need to express Mormon history honestly. This has been shaped in part by church associates who blamed any inconsistency or bad press the Mormons under Joseph Smith and James J. Strang received on the Gentiles or apostate Mormons. This has been exasperated by visits to Mormon Church sites at Kirtland, Independence, Nauvoo and Carthage where "faith promoting" history was spoken and blessed with a testimonial prayer. Add to that, I respect authors who can honestly tell their Mormon story in a manner where human frailties are addressed openly and honestly.

SJ: Lost Apostles - the book's title - implies loss. What exactly has been lost?

WS: Lost, to me, means the Apostles became lost because of a faith promoting process dedicated to dehumanize early Mormons who could not endure to the end. Such a philosophy demanded they be presented as being weak or bad. Moreover, lost relates to why they became lost. The collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society reflects conditions which made some become lost. Others became lost due to Mormon militancy, others from the centralization of authority, and yet others from the failure of Zion's Camp. In essence, the Church dogma of Mormon exceptionalism made them lost.

SJ: The title also implies the apostles can be found, or at least understood better by members in all branches of Mormonism right?

WS: The Lost Apostles will only be understood by objective people who are not conditioned to reject implied or real criticism of Joseph Smith and the Church he established. Open-minded readers will appreciate these Apostles for their dedication, sacrifices, triumphs and tragedies at a time the Church was fluid and struggling to work out its destiny.

SJ: In the insert that came with my copy of the book, you talk about how the original Twelve Apostles, especially those the book focuses on, struggled with Smith's humanity and how it conflicted with their own sense of morality and commitment to the church. Would you say history is repeating itself as some members of the church struggle with the Utah church's stances on social and gender issues?

WS: I am not sure if these members' struggles are similar to the struggles of the Lost Apostles. Our Lost Apostles generally resented the system changing and their not knowing how to cope. It seems to me, some Mormons are attempting to make an established Church liberalize and do not know how to cope with what they perceive as intransience.

SJ: I'm not a serious student of history, but Christ's original twelve apostles didn't seem to experience the same level of conflict when compared to Joseph's twelve. Why is that you think?

WS: I have thought about comparing Jesus' apostles getting along as contrasted to the Lost Apostles. Peter and Paul were conflicted to some extent. During Christ's ministry the Apostles were jockeying for position at the expense of their fellows. Paul and Barnabas split after some disagreement and D&C 64:8 says: "My disciples in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened." We know so little about their lives after the resurrection I suspect it is impossible to answer this question. However, I am putting my money on there being a lot more conflict than the Bible tells us.

SJ: Of the six who permanently lost their Apostleship, to whom do you feel most connected and why?

WS: I think we favor Lyman but having said that, McLellin spreading destruction among each faction he joined makes one wonder why he was called to be an Apostle. Some will resent hearing about William Smith's personality and seeming sociopathic behaviors but they are as relevant as the story of Lyman seeing the plates of the Book of Mormon.

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Seattle Jon is a family man, little league coach, urban farmer and businessman living in Seattle. He currently gets up early with the markets to trade bonds for a living. In his spare time he enjoys movies, thrifting and is an avid reader. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Japan Fukuoka mission field. He has one wife, four kids and three chickens.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Signature Books (used with permission).

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