Did God tell David Whitmer to leave the Church and repudiate Mormonism?
God told David Whitmer to leave Far West one month after he had already been excommunicated from the Church
David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon’s Three Witnesses, said:
If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to “separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them.”
In June, 1838, at Far West, Mo., a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard’s secret band. I make no farther statements now; but suffice it to say that my persecutions, for trying to show them their errors, became of such a nature that I had to leave the Latter Day Saints; and, as I rode on horseback out of Far West, in June, 1838, the voice of God from heaven spake to me as I have stated above.
God did not tell Whitmer to repudiate Mormonism
The quotations cited by the critics are taken from a pamphlet written by David Whitmer near the end of his life. In this pamphlet, called An Address to All Believers in Christ, Whitmer strongly reiterates his testimony of the Book of Mormon and his experience seeing the angel as one of the three witnesses. He then goes on to outline in detail his disagreements with the church and with Joseph Smith, Jr. It was because of these disagreements that Whitmer was ultimately excommunicated. When God told him to leave Far West, he had not been a member of the Church for weeks. God did not tell Whitmer to repudiate Mormonism.
Whitmer’s safety in Far West may have been at risk after his excommunication
However, since he remained among the Saints during the month after he was excommunicated, he was at potential risk of harm. Whitmer announced that “the voice of God” told him to “separate [him]self from among the Latter Day Saints” in June 1838, after the formation of Sampson Avard’s secret vigilante group. David Whitmer had been excommunicated from the Church more than a month earlier, and his only continued association with the Saints was the fact that he was still living among them in Far West.
Whitmer was not instructed to leave the Church or “repudiate Mormonism,” he was instructed (by God) to leave Far West after he was already excommunicated. This was arguably a very prudent course, both for Whitmer’s safety and the integrity of the Restoration witnesses. Whitmer’s witness of the Book of Mormon and seeing the angel is much more powerful since he forcefully maintained it even after he left the Church and disagreed with Joseph Smith.
How can we accept David Whitmer as a valid Book of Mormon witness if God told him to leave the Saints?
While God would not force Whitmer to remain in the Church, He could take steps to ensure that Whitmer was safe from harm
It is claimed that if members accept Whitmer’s witness of the Book of Mormon, then they must also accept that God wanted David to repudiate the Church as false. Brent Metcalfe asserts the following:
Contemporary Mormons are left to confront Whitmer’s challenge: believe that God confirmed the Book of Mormon translation and later instructed him to repudiate Mormonism or reject his testimony in toto. For Whitmer there was no distinction between the two experiences.
Both Whitmer’s experience as a witness and his prompting to leave Far West can be inspired of God
Believing Latter-day Saints have no trouble seeing both of Whitmer’s revelatory experiences as inspired of God. While God would not force Whitmer to remain in the Church, He might well take steps to ensure that the Three Witnesses remained alive. In fact, Whitmer’s fidelity to his testimony despite great disagreements with Joseph and the Church strengthen its force.
It is disingenuous for critics to imply Whitmer did not leave the Church until God “told him to.”
When did God tell David Whitmer to separate himself from the Latter-day Saints?
Whitmer claimed no revelation from God at the time that he was excommunicated
Whitmer’s excommunication occurred on 13 April 1838. Whitmer refused to appear at the council meeting that severed him from the Church; he wrote:
to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellowship and communion—choosing to seek a place among the meek and humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.
Whitmer here says that he will withdraw from the Church—this would have been an excellent opportunity for him to invoke a “revelation” telling him to leave the Church, but he did not. This is not surprising, since he does not report hearing the voice until June, at least six weeks later.
Thus, when he reports being told by God to “separate himself from among” the members of the Church, Whitmer was already out of the Church, but still living in Far West among members of the Church.
Whitmer’s decision to leave Far West was a wise one, since it preserved his safety
Whitmer’s decision to leave Far West was arguably a wise one. Tensions were high, and there were threats of violence against apostates (including Whitmer, who had been very prominent) from people like Sampson Avard.
It was vital for the restoration that the Three Witnesses remain faithful to their testimonies of the Book of Mormon (which Whitmer did). Had Whitmer been killed in Far West in 1838, critics could forever after claim that he was a witness who would have recanted, but that he was killed by “the Mormons” to prevent him from speaking his mind.
Despite his disagreements with Joseph Smith and the Church, Whitmer maintained his testimony of the Book of Mormon
The decision to leave Far West—which Whitmer attributed to a divine voice—meant that Whitmer was kept safe. He lived longer than any witness, and never returned to the Church. Yet, he insisted to his death on the reality and truth of his statement as one of the Witnesses, and in the Book of Mormon’s divine origin. And, the Saints (both those guilty of illegitimate violence, and the innocent who suffered because of their acts) did have it “done unto them” as they had plotted to do against Whitmer and other apostates: the Saints were eventually killed or driven from Missouri by violence.
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