Research focuses on Smith family

Published: Sunday, May 29 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Yet young Joseph was so loyal to his father that he refrained from joining the Presbyterian Church with his mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Their relationship has often been portrayed as the closer of the two parental ties, yet Bushman said young Joseph felt a special obligation to his father to heal family wounds.

Thus he conceded to use a "seer stone" to help his father dig for buried treasure, despite his own reticence about such a venture, Bushman said. Years later, after the young Smith had told family members of his experiences with heavenly visitors, his father acknowledged his son's divine "gifts should be used for a higher purpose."

When Smith Sr. was baptized, his son was simply overcome with emotion more dramatic than family members had ever seen in him, he said. And when Smith ordained his father as patriarch of the fledgling LDS Church, he gave him a heavenly power above and beyond anything material the older Smith had failed to acquire and pass on to his sons, thus giving the family patriarch a way to bless his family similar to that of Old Testament prophets.

Death, loss and family separation troubled Smith greatly and were part of life on the American frontier. Toward the end of his life, the man many considered a prophet was consumed with concern about keeping his family intact, and his quest for answers resulted in Section 132 of the faith's Doctrine and Covenants. In what he said was a revelation from God, Smith was "thrilled to discover that he could seal human relationships after death."

He planned and ordered construction of a family tomb in Nauvoo where all of his family members could be buried together, anticipating a future resurrection of all of them present in one place.

"He had a passion for family," Bushman said, quoting one author who said Smith " 'did not lust for wives so much as for kin.' He wanted them all around and bound to him forever. He couldn't bear to be alone."

Both in regard to his father and his family, Smith produced answers to vexing questions about not only their temporal well-being but about their eternal salvation as well, Bushman said.

"Priesthood sealings were a theological solution to a social problem of how to bind families together in a mobile society," Bushman said. "Does it detract from the divinity of his revelations for it to resolve personal and social problems?

"Surely, we want revelation to be relevant both here and now as well as in the hereafter."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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