As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we sometimes forget that two of the most revered declarations in the church were never written with members of the church as the intended audience.
They were written with everyone else in mind.
The Articles of Faith appeared in a letter that Joseph Smith wrote in 1842 to John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat newspaper.
And "The Family" began, I understand, as a proclamation “to the world,” aimed at society in general.
Today, when I read the Articles of Faith from Wentworth’s point of view, I hear overtones in them that we don’t always capture.
I hear Joseph saying, over and over, Mr. Wentworth, tell your readers they don’t have to be afraid of us. We’re a lot like them. We’re not dangerous.
We believe in a Christian godhead, the Articles say.
We believe in traditional Christian principles and ordinances.
And as far as fear mongering goes, we are not violent, delusional or threatening.
We believe in being good citizens — wherever we live.
We believe in “obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”
We don’t force people into our way of life. We believe everyone should be free to worship however they choose.
We believe in being honest and kind.
Like you, Mr. Wentworth, we seek the best things in life.
If I were Wentworth, I’d hear Joseph telling me that Mormons don’t want to change American society. They just want to belong.
They just want to be Mormons.
And in that same respect, I see "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" as the flip side to the Wentworth letter.
If the Articles of Faith are saying, in effect, "Mormons don’t want to disrupt American society," "The Family" proclamation says, "We don’t want American society to disrupt us."
As President Gordon B. Hinckley declared in 1995, "The Family" proclamation was released to “warn and forewarn.”12 comments on this story
In my lifetime, I have seen many forces try to shape American culture. When I was a boy, we members all hoped that LDS values would one day influence secular culture.
Now that I’m older, the bigger concern seems to be in keeping secular culture from having too much influence on Mormonism.
The refrain “truth is marching” has added a second line: “Don’t tread on us.”
The Articles of Faith and "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" are bookends for LDS life over the past 150 years.
The Articles were eventually accepted as scripture.
I know many people who hope the same fate awaits the "The Family" proclamation.