Lesson 15

Strength amid Opposition

“Lesson 15: Strength amid Opposition,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (2015)


Introduction

During 1837 and 1838, a spirit of faultfinding, contention, and apostasy spread among some Church leaders and members in Kirtland, Ohio, and northern Missouri. Problems escalated as some people came out in open opposition to the Prophet Joseph Smith. From the experiences of the early Saints, we can learn that as we face opposition, we receive spiritual strength when we live righteously and sustain the Lord’s servants.

Background Reading

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 112:10–15

Apostasy in Kirtland, Ohio

Write the following words on the board: angry, offended, jealous. Invite students to think of times when they may have experienced these feelings.

Display the following account and invite a student to read it aloud. Ask students to identify the situation that led Thomas B. Marsh to experience the feelings written on the board.

Soon after Thomas B. Marsh was called to be an Apostle in 1835, he was appointed President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In the spring of 1837, President Marsh learned that one of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Parley P. Pratt, was planning a mission to England without President Marsh’s direction. President Marsh, who was in Missouri, wrote to Elder Pratt and the other members of the Twelve and invited them to meet him in Kirtland, Ohio, on July 24, 1837, so they could be unified in their plans for missions. However, a month before that meeting took place, two other members of the Twelve, Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, departed for England after receiving mission calls from the Prophet Joseph Smith. President Marsh was apparently upset that members of the Twelve were proceeding to preach the gospel in England without his involvement.

  • In this situation, what could President Marsh have done to avoid the feelings listed on the board?

  • What are some dangers of allowing such feelings to govern our thoughts and actions? (Point out to students that such feelings are offensive to the Holy Ghost and often lead to more serious sin.)

Ask the student to continue by reading the following:

President Marsh shared his concerns with the Prophet Joseph Smith and sought his counsel. In response, the Lord gave the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 112.

In July 1837, when the Lord gave this revelation, the Church was experiencing disunity, contention, and apostasy. Pride and greed led some members of the Church to openly criticize the Prophet Joseph Smith and question his authority. Some Church members, including some of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, even sought to remove Joseph Smith as President of the Church.

  • What feelings led some Church members to disregard their testimonies of the truth and become openly opposed to the Prophet Joseph Smith?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 112:10–12, 15, looking for counsel the Lord gave to President Marsh and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve that can help Church members avoid becoming critical of their leaders.

Ask students to report what they find. Then ask:

  • How can the counsel in these verses help Church members avoid becoming critical of Church leaders? (As students share their answers, help them to understand the following principles: If we are humble, the Lord will lead us and give us answers to our prayers. The Lord requires that we sustain those leaders who hold the keys to preside over the Church. You might suggest that students cross-reference verse 15 with Doctrine and Covenants 84:35–38. You might also point out that the counsel to admonish members of the Twelve was given to the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and does not apply to individual Church members.)

handout iconProvide each student with a copy of the handout found at the end of this lesson. Consider dividing the class into small groups and inviting each group to read together the section titled “Apostasy in Kirtland: The Need to Faithfully Follow Church Leaders.” Ask the students to discuss the questions at the end of the section within their groups.

handout, Remaining Strong

You might conclude this portion of the lesson by displaying and discussing the following statement by President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) of the First Presidency:

President Heber C. Kimball

“I will give you a key which Brother Joseph Smith used to give in Nauvoo. He said that the very step of apostasy commenced with losing confidence in the leaders of this church and kingdom, and that whenever you discerned that spirit you might know that it would lead the possessor of it on the road to apostasy” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 318).

To emphasize the importance of faithfully following the prophet and other Church leaders, read the following experience from the life of Brigham Young (1801–77), who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at that time:

President Brigham Young

“While in Kirtland, President Brigham Young encountered a group of apostates who were plotting against the Prophet Joseph Smith within the very walls of the temple. He declared, ‘I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God and sink themselves to hell’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 79).

Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–10, 16–17; 122:1–9

Opposition in Northern Missouri

Consider keeping students in small groups and inviting each group to read the second section of the handout titled “Conflict in Northern Missouri: Learning to Endure Opposition Well.” Explain that this section describes some of the actions that led to the Saints being driven from northern Missouri and the Prophet being confined in Liberty Jail. Ask the students to discuss the questions at the end of this section within their groups.

After the students complete the handout, explain that Doctrine and Covenants 121–23 contains selections from a letter that the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints near the end of his imprisonment in Liberty Jail.

Ask students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–6. Ask students to look for the questions the Prophet expressed to the Lord.

  • What questions did you find?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–10, 16–17; 122:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and think about how the Lord’s responses to Joseph Smith’s pleadings may have strengthened Joseph to face continued opposition from his enemies.

Ask students to state doctrines and principles they learned from the verses they read. (Answers might include the following: If we endure opposition well in mortality, God will bless us now and in eternity. Those who accuse the Lord’s servants are servants of sin. We can be strengthened in our trials as we rely on the Savior’s Atonement and remember His example of faithful endurance.)

Display the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud:

Elder Neil L. Andersen

“By definition, trials will be trying. There may be anguish, confusion, sleepless nights, and pillows wet with tears. But our trials need not be spiritually fatal. They need not take us from our covenants or from the household of God. …

“Like the intense fire that transforms iron into steel, as we remain faithful during the fiery trial of our faith, we are spiritually refined and strengthened” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 41–42).

Invite students to think about what they have done or will do to remember that God can strengthen them when they experience trials or opposition to their faith. Allow time for students to share their experiences or thoughts about relying on God during difficult times.

Student Readings

Remaining Strong in Times of Opposition

Foundations of the Restoration—Lesson 15

Apostasy in Kirtland: The Need to Faithfully Follow Church Leaders

In 1837, the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, experienced some financial problems. To help the Saints be more self-sufficient in their finances, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders established a company similar to a bank and called it the Kirtland Safety Society. Because of a widespread economic depression during this time, many banks failed throughout the United States. The Kirtland Safety Society also failed in the fall of 1837. Two hundred investors in the bank lost almost everything, with Joseph Smith sustaining the greatest losses. Even though the Kirtland Safety Society was not funded by the Church, some of the Saints considered it a Church bank or the Prophet’s bank and blamed Joseph Smith for their financial problems. Some even began calling him a fallen prophet. But despite the bank’s failure, many others who lost money continued in the faith and stayed true to the Prophet.

A spirit of apostasy and faultfinding began to spread among many of the Saints. By June 1838, approximately 200 or 300 apostates had left the Church, including four Apostles, the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and a member of the First Presidency. However, most of the Saints responded to this period of testing with faith, much like Brigham Young did. They were strengthened by the Lord, and they remained true to their testimonies. Several of those who left the Church during this period of apostasy later returned and requested that they be united again with the Lord’s Church. Among them were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Luke Johnson, and Frederick G. Williams.

In the midst of these struggles in Kirtland, a few apostates sought to kill Joseph Smith. Warned by the Spirit, he and Sidney Rigdon left during the night on January 12, 1838. Their enemies pursued them for days, but the Lord protected them. They arrived with their families in Far West, Missouri, on March 14, 1838.

Discuss the following questions as a group:

  • What principles can we learn from these events about how to respond to opposition in our lives? What can we learn from these events about how to respond to opposition against the Church?

  • What can we do to remain faithful to Church leaders even though we may hear other people criticize them?

  • In what ways have you been blessed because you have followed the prophet?

Conflict in Northern Missouri: Learning to Endure Opposition Well

In 1837 and 1838, some disaffected and excommunicated members of the Church living among the Saints in Far West began to bring lawsuits against the Church and its leaders and to harass the Church. In June 1838, Sidney Rigdon spoke heatedly in what has become known as the “Salt Sermon.” He referenced Matthew 5:13 and said that if the salt loses its savor, it is good for nothing and should be cast out, implying that those who had left the Church should be cast out from among the Saints. Two weeks later, on July 4, Sidney Rigdon gave a speech in which he promised that the Saints would defend themselves even if it came to a “war of extermination.” Though both of these speeches seemed to contradict the Lord’s instruction to “sue for peace” (D&C 105:38), both speeches were published and caused great alarm among non–Latter-day Saints.

During this time, a convert named Sampson Avard administered secret oaths to those who would join him in forming a band of marauders called the Danites. Avard instructed them to rob and plunder the Missourians, saying that this would help build up the kingdom of God. Avard convinced his followers that his directions were coming from the First Presidency. The truth was later discovered, and Avard was excommunicated. Avard’s actions caused significant damage to the image of the Church and helped lead to the Prophet’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail.

In October 1838, a battle between some Church members and Missouri militiamen left a few men dead on each side. Exaggerated reports of the battle reached Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, governor of the state of Missouri, who then issued what has become known as the extermination order: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good” (quoted in History of the Church, 3:175). Soon, the city of Far West was surrounded by a militia that outnumbered the Saints’ forces five to one. Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were imprisoned in Liberty Jail, where they remained all winter. The rest of the Saints were forced to leave the state.

Discuss the following questions as a group:

  • What principles can we learn from these events to help us better endure opposition?

  • Why is it important for each of us to follow the Savior’s example at times of crisis or opposition? What happened in northern Missouri because some of the Saints did not do this?

  • When have you seen another person’s words or actions influence someone else to have a positive view of the Church?