Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

The Non-Faith-Destroying Historically Accurate Young Women’s Lesson about Joseph Smith

by heather

Photograph of Joseph Smith

Last year I was a Young Women’s leader going through a faith crisis and I was supposed to teach a lesson on Joseph Smith and the Restoration. Actually I was pretty done believing the truth claims of the LDS church before this point, but was in the ‘I’m going to be a NOM’ phase. I had some anxiety about this because I wasn’t 100% sure about Joseph Smith and I just wanted to avoid being in a situation where I had to say “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God”. I planned a lesson on the Young Women’s theme and wanted to just remind the girls that we love them and they are important. So instead of talking about Joseph Smith I just wanted to give the girls encouragement. I mentioned this to YW’s president and she totally canned my idea. “Nope, stick to the manual.” There isn’t really a manual, but whatever. “Or try to tie what you’re trying to say into the Restoration. Talk about the women who were involved.”  So, yeah, like Joseph’s underage brides, or the women that he ordained to the priesthood. Neither topic is actually considered kosher for church. I spent the rest of the week stressing, research and planning what I was going to say. Here is the lesson I gave in April 2013, and although some might view it as subversive, everyone in the room kept nodding their heads in agreement.


“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…”– President Joseph Fielding Smith

“Today’s lesson is about Joseph Smith. Ever since I was a young girl, my mother has taught me about the importance of genealogy and part of that involves checking your facts and sources. I have an ancestor named Lucy Smith. She was born in New York in 1821, just like Joseph Smith’s little sister. This was exciting! Not only did I find out that I was related to Joseph Smith, but this meant that I knew who her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were and someone had done all of their temple work already. Hooray! However, as I closely looked at things I discovered yes, they were born in the same year in the same state and had the same middle initial, but my Lucy Smith was not Joseph’s Lucy Smith. They had different husbands, different children and were born in different counties. The moral of the story: Check your facts. Just because something sounds good and feels good, doesn’t mean that it is actually true. But it did get me more interested in the people of this time. ”

I remember at age 12 that church history was super boring. People in weird clothes, lots of dates, blablabla. So I tried to tell stories to make it kind of real for them. I started out by talking about Joseph Smith’s family, his parents, and that he was #5 of 11 kids. I drew a time-line showing his birth, 1st marriage, places he lived, when the church was organized, etc. I told the story of his brother Alvin dying and how that probably effected him.
I actually spent more time explaining revivals and what the revival movement was than I planned, but I felt like it was relevant and they asked questions about it. It was a part of the religious culture that Joseph was raised in. I talked about that Joseph being uneducated was only a half-truth. He did not have as many opportunities as we do, but his father was a school teacher and education was probably very important to them, even if he only had 2 years of actual formal schooling. We discussed James 1:5, which also took more time than I expected. But I’m glad that we were discussing.

I asked someone to explain the First Vision. I didn’t want to say anything about it. I mean there were 9 different visions, and although he said it happened in 1820, he didn’t start telling what the Church refers to as the official version until 1838. Then we talked about how the Smith’s believed in and practiced folk magic, and used folk magic and a seer stone to hunt for treasure. Because of his reputation as a treasure hunter he was hired to work for Knight in Pennsylvania where he met Emma. Her parents didn’t like him so they eloped. After getting married they moved

Emma Smith

3 times in about six months before moving back to a house that Emma’s parents provided in Pennsylvania. Emma’s father declared that they could not keep the plates in the house if Emma’s father was not permitted to see them, probably because of a suspicion of folk magic. So Joseph buried the plates behind his house. Then I shared the following quote from Elder Nelson about the translation process.
The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)
I explained who David Whitmer and the rest of the eleven witnesses were and showed them a few pictures from Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. I explained that Emma Smith, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris all took turns being a scribe to Joseph during the three year period before Oliver Cowdery helped with the more intensive process. I explained about the 116 pages and Martin Harris’s motivation for wanting to show them to his wife. Then we ran out of time before I finished that story. (I was very surprised that not one of them had heard of the 116 pages.) To close, I switched gears and reminded them that their leaders love them and we spend a lot of time preparing lessons and activities because we love them and if they ever have concerns or worries we are happy to talk to them. I thought that some of what I said might be surprising to them, but the only thing that seemed to shock them was that Joseph Smith and Emma eloped because her parents didn’t like him. As a Young Women’s leader I didn’t feel like it would be remotely helpful for me to destroy their faith. I could pass out the CES letter and be ‘fired’ from my calling, but even if the young women believed me, it would just result in their lives at home and church and perhaps school being made very difficult. I felt like my only purpose in being there was to build them up. I do feel like I owed it to them to tell them the truth of the Book of Mormon translation process so they don’t end up at nearly thirty saying ‘Um, why is it that I have been active all my life and I have never heard of this? Why was South Park more honest than my leaders?’

2 Responses to “The Non-Faith-Destroying Historically Accurate Young Women’s Lesson about Joseph Smith”

  1. […] predicted Jesus’ life in some detail but failed to predict some Mormon doctrines that Joseph Smith didn’t think of until after translating the Book of Mormon. Daniel Midgely’s Old […]

  2. Steph says:

    Thank you for your lesson ideas! I have to give a class on Joseph Smith’s role and it’s something that I feel is often glossed over & I wasn’t sure how to go about teaching his life accurately but passively. This gave me some key points to talk about. :)

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