Can You Make a Christian Out of a Jew?
Brigham Young posed the question: "Can you make a Christian of a Jew?" andthen proceeded to answer it. What position of authority did Young have within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to enable him to rule on this question? In the Journal of Discourses, a Latter-day Saints publication, Brigham Young declared:
I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually. . . . Let this go to the people with "Thus saith the Lord," and if they do not obey it, you will see the chastening hand of the Lord upon them.1In response to those "in the councils of the nations" who faulted Brigham Young for claiming that "when he sends forth his discourses to the world they may call them Scripture," he commented, "I say now, when they are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God. . . ."2
The wisdom and authority Young’s words are supposed to convey to the Latter-day Saints community, are illustrated by his declaration that:
I am here to give this people, called Latter-day Saints, counsel to direct them in the path of life. I am here to answer; I shall be on hand to answer when I am called upon, for all the counsel and for all the instruction that I have given to this people. If there is any Elder here, or any member of this Church called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who can bring up the first idea, the first sentence that I have delivered to the people as counsel that is wrong, I really wish they would do it; but they cannot do it, for the simple reason that I have never given counsel that is wrong; this is the reason.3For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young’s discourses and sermons are to be considered as revealed scripture. For a Latter-day Saint to deny this is tantamount to calling Brigham Young a liar and a fraud. That is why it is so strange to see Latter-day missionary literature directed specifically toward the Jewish people4 and Latter-day Saints missionaries attempting to convert Jewish people. In the Journal of Discourses the following statement by Brigham Young concerning the Jewish people is recorded:
. . . You may break their iron bands, and set them at liberty, and but few of them will receive the Gospel.According to Brigham Young, "who knows the mind of God," no true Jew can be converted into a true Christian. He informs his fellow Latter-day Saints that the divine will declares that "it is impossible to convert the Jews, until the Lord God Almighty does it." In what is to be considered "as good Scripture as is couched in the Bible" Young declares that God alone, not the Latter-day Saints missionaries, is to bring about the conversion of Jews. He states that any attempt to convert the Jewish people short of God’s personal direct intervention in the conversion process is an exercise in futility. As we will see below, Latter-day Saints missionaries are, in fact, instructed by Young not to attempt to convert Jews. What is more, his instructions are that "the Elders" are to have nothing to do with the Jewish people at all but are to "leave them to live and die in their sins and ignorance."
Why is this? Because their fathers heard the Gospel, and most of them rejected it; and the curse of the Almighty is upon them, and upon their posterity until they have wrought out their salvation by suffering; for the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. A nation which has had the privilege of receiving the everlasting covenant, and has rejected it, will be saved in the kingdom of God, but it will be among the very last which will receive the Gospel. Perhaps you will marvel at this. It is no marvel to me, because I perceive natural principles and sound reason for all these providences of the Almighty. All His providences to His people upon the face of the whole earth, are perfectly philosophical. Then recollect, there is a chance for all who are honest in heart. What shall we do with those who are dishonest? Let them remain with the good until the time comes to cast them away, and gather out the good.
We might say much on this point, showing you why things are as they are concerning the inhabitants of the earth receiving or rejecting the Gospel. Do you suppose they believe in Jesus Christ at Jerusalem? Can you make a Christian of a Jew? I tell you, nay. If a Jew comes in to this Church, and honestly professes to be a Saint, a follower of Christ, and if the blood of Judah is in his veins, he will apostatize. He may have been born and bred a Jew, have the face of a Jew, speak the language of the Jews, and have attended to all the ceremonies of the Jewish religion, and have openly professed to be a Jew all his days; but I will tell you a secret--there is not a particle of the blood of Judaism in him, if he has become a true Christian, a Saint of God; for if there is, he will most assuredly leave the Church of Christ, or that blood will be purged out of his veins. We have men among us who were Jews, and became converted from Judaism. For instance, here is brother Neibaur; do I believe there is one particle of the blood of Judah in his veins? No, not so much as could be seen on the point of the finest cambric needle, through a microscope with a magnifying power of two millions. This is a secret that you will perhaps find out, in a coming day, to your satisfaction. The Lord knew how to preach to the Jews, and told them what the truth was. You may as well undertake to command the most degraded of these Indian tribes, and give them arms and accoutrements, and try to put them through the regular military exercise, as to preach to the Jews to make them believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jerusalem is not to be redeemed by the soft still voice of the preacher of the Gospel of peace. Why? Because they were once the blessed of the Lord, the chosen of the Lord, the promised seed. They were the people from among whom should spring the Messiah; and salvation could be found only through that tribe. The Messiah came through them, and they killed him; and they will be the last of all the seed of Abraham to have the privilege of receiving the New and Everlasting Covenant. You may hand out to them gold, you may feed and clothe them, but it is impossible to convert the Jews, until the Lord God Almighty does it.5
But what of those Latter-day Saints who claim to be of Jewish ancestry? Young teaches that those Latter-day Saints converts who claim to be of Jewish ancestry are really not biological descendants of that people in the slightest degree for "if the blood of Judah is in . . . [their] veins, . . . [they] will apostatize" and ". . . [they] will most assuredly leave the Church of Christ."6 Indeed, if those converts truly follow the "sayings of him who knows the mind of God" they could not honestly claim to be of Jewish descent unless they will at some point leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.7 The fact is that Latter-day Saints missionaries should never attempt to convert anyone who is suspect of possible Jewish descent.8 Brigham Young "who knows the mind of God" states emphatically:
. . . I would rather undertake to convert five thousand Lamanites [American Indians], than to convert one of those poor miserable creatures whose fathers killed the Savior, and who say, "Amen to the deed," to this day. Yea, I would rather undertake to convert the devil himself, if it were possible.From Brigham Young’s discourse, Latter-day Saints missionaries should learn not to waste their time preaching to Jewish people for "it is impossible to convert the Jews until the Lord God Almighty does it." The conversion of the Jews is to be left to God, and to God alone, to be accomplished in his own good time. "Jerusalem is not to be redeemed by the soft still voice of the preacher of the Gospel of peace." Latter-day Saints missionary tracts directed toward the Jewish people are seeking a premature conversion before God alone brings it about. They are Young states, going against the will of God. In a comparison of the spiritual conditions of the Lamanites and the children of Judah, Young informs his followers:
. . . I say to all the Elders who are in lands where the Gospel has been preached previous to our day, come away from that people, and leave them to live and die in their sins and ignorance. For the sins of their fathers are a sweet morsel to them, and they take pleasure in their wickedness; therefore, let them alone, and come home, and preach to the Lamanites.9
Here are the Lamanites. . . . Their wickedness was not so great as those who slew the Son of God. Jesus revealed himself to them after he was slain, preached to them the Gospel. But in the fourth generation the Priesthood was driven from their midst, and after that, the laws, ordinances, and power of the Gospel ceased to be with them. Is their curse as great as that of those in Palestine? No, it is light, in comparison. They began to thirst for each other’s blood, and massacred each other, from generation to generation, until they sunk into wickedness, and evil principles the most degrading, and have become loathsome and vile. Still, the curse will be removed from them before it will be removed from the children of Judah; and they will become "a white and delightsome people."10Since the Lamanites, the American Indians, have still not become "a white and delightsome people,"11 one must conclude that according to Latter-day Saints teaching the curse has also not been removed from the Jewish people, the children of Judah. Therefore, missionary tracts directed towards the Jewish people are written and distributed in ignorance of the divine will or are in willful disobedience of it.
Simply stated, Brigham Young taught that "Jerusalem is not to be redeemed by our going there and preaching to the inhabitants." Instead, he declared, "It will be redeemed by the high hand of the Almighty."12 Concerning belief in Jesus, he declared emphatically that Jews "cannot believe in him until the second coming."13 On the basis of his divine mandate to declare "scripture," Brigham Young addressed the Jewish people editorially. "We do not want you to believe our doctrine, if any professing to be Jews do so, it would prove they were not Jews."14 Accordingly, he insisted that any person claming to be of Jewish descent, who was a member of the Latter-day Saints Church, had been misled into thinking he or she was Jewish. Wilford Woodruff, described his frustration at not being able to preach the Latter-day Saints faith to Jews. "My soul has been filled with the desire to proclaim unto them the word of God unto eternal life, but I know I could not do this. The time had not come and I could not preach to them."15
There have been Latter-day Saints leaders who believed that the time to convert the Jews had arrived. For example, Orson Pratt argued that the event marking the "fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) was the appearance and proclamation of the Book of Mormon. He based his reasoning on a supposed revelation which informed the Latter-day Saints Church that the "times of the Gentiles" were to be "fulfilled" in the same generation that the Book of Mormon appeared.16 Therefore, he conjectured that the conversion of the Jewish people would begin as soon as that book had been sufficiently spread to the non-Israelite world. Pratt maintained, "God has restricted us to the Gentile nations, and would not suffer us to go with the Book of Mormon to the house of Israel until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled."17 His conclusion was that the time for the conversion of the Jews must be rapidly approaching.18 Similar reasoning was expressed by Joseph F. Smith, "It strikes me," he said, "that the hour is nigh. I believe that the times of the Gentiles will surely be fulfilled, and the light will break forth among the Jews."19 His son, Joseph Fielding Smith expressed the opinion that "not many of the Jews . . . would believe in Christ before he comes. The Book of Mormon tells us that they shall begin to believe in him . . . but in the main they will gather to Jerusalem in their unbelief."20 Bruce McConkie agreed, writing that the Jewish return would come "when they begin to believe in Christ," but that "the conversion of the Jews as a people . . . will not take place until after the Second Coming of the Son of Man."21 McConkie has also stated that prior to this "second coming," "Some of . . . [the Jews] will accept the gospel and forsake the traditions of their fathers; a few will find in Jesus the fulfillment of their ancient Messianic hope; but their nation as a whole, their people as the distinct body that they now are in all nations, the Jews as a unit shall not. . . ."22 These Latter-day Saints spokesmen miss the crucial point of Young’s declaration on conversion of the Jews.
Significantly, none of those speculating concerning the possibilities for Jewish conversion prior to "the second coming" claim to be declaring "scripture." Only Brigham Young’s dogmatic position is expressed in such terms. Apparently, his statements concerning the subject of Jewish conversion represent "revelations" communicated by the Latter-day Saints God and not simply conjectures by church leaders. Moreover, Young’s revelation leaves no room for individuals who are truly of Jewish ancestry to convert to the Latter-day Saints Church. They simply could not be good Latter-day Saint.
Clearly, Latter-day Saints Church President Spencer W. Kimball was wrong when he proposed, at the April 1975 Regional Representatives’ seminar, a more aggressive missionary program directed at Jews. He stated:
The Lord said to the Nephites,Although in 2 Nephi 29:5 the Gentiles are chastised for not carrying out a missionary outreach to the Jewish people, this cannot apply to modern times. First, this verse refers to so-called "Jews" in the Americas at the time when Book of Mormon peoples supposedly inhabited these continents. It has nothing to do with people who are actually Jews, then or now. Second, it has been demonstrated that Brigham Young taught as scripture that neither individually nor as a people can the Jews be truly converted to the Latter-day Saints Church without God alone bringing about their conversion. Therefore, when Kimball states that he thinks that the time when the Jews will hear the gospel and accept Jesus "cannot come until we, the witnesses of Jesus Christ, get busy and present the message to them" is unscriptural from a Latter-day Saints perspective. Joseph Smith declared that "a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such."24 Kimball’s call for increased missionary work among the Jewish people is not given as a prophetic declaration by which God allegedly speaks through this so-called Latter-day Saints prophet; it is rather his own, and indeed an incorrect, opinion concerning what should be done. In no way does Kimball’s statement or that of any other official of the Latter-day Saints Church, nullify or supersede Brigham Young’s declaration which he sanctified as being equivalent to scripture. "Jerusalem is not to be redeemed by the soft still voice of the preacher of the Gospel of peace. . . . You may hand out to them gold, you may feed and clothe them, but it is impossible to convert the Jews, until the Lord God Almighty does it." That time, he declares cannot come "until the second coming."
O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. (2 Nephi 29:5)
I repeat that scripture because it seems to me that it fits us who have, in some degree at least, forgotten them.
. . . They must hear the gospel; they must accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Master, and that day, I think, cannot come until we, the witnesses of Jesus Christ, get busy and present the message to them.23
Brigham Young asked, "What man or woman on the earth, what spirit in the spirit-world can say truthfully that I ever gave a wrong word of counsel, or a word of advice that could not be sanctioned by the heavens?"25 Latter-day Saints missionaries, heed Brigham Young’s advice concerning the Jewish people, go home and convert a Lamanite!
© Gerald Sigal 1999
1 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Liverpool: F.D. Richards, vol. 13 (1870), p. 95.
2 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 264.
3 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 16, (1873), p. 161.
4 Examples of such literature are: LeGrande Richards, The Mormons and the Jewish People, Salt Lake City: Deseret Press (undated tract); Ezra Taft Benson, A Message to Judah from Joseph, Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (tract), 1982; Jewish Members, Why I Joined the Mormon Church (formerly published as ". . . by Jewish Converts"), Salt Lake City: The Church of Latter-day Saints (undated tract); We Have Found the Messiah, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (undated tract); Irving H. Cohen, Jews of the Torah, Schenectady, N.Y., 1963.
5 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2 (1854), p. 142.
6 According to Latter-day Saints Church history, Joseph Smith had given Orson Hyde a blessing which some nine years latter (April, 1840) was quoted to the best of Hyde’s memory as follows: "In due time thou shalt go to Jerusalem, the land of thy fathers, and be a watchman unto the house of Israel; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering of that people" (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts, vol. 4, 1902 [1976 edition], p. 375). There are some Latter-day Saints who surmise from the phrase "land of thy fathers" that Hyde was a biologic descendant of Judah. Thus, we read: "Suffice it to say that a Mormon leader, having Jewish blood in his veins, was sent, through the inspiration of God or through revelation, to dedicate and consecrate Palestine for the return of the tribe of Judah and his companions. This Mormon leader with Jewish blood in his body was named Orson Hyde. . . . Orson Hyde dedicated Jerusalem and Palestine in October, 1841" (Irving Cohen, Jews of the Torah, Schenectady, N.Y., 1963, p. 23). The contention that Orson Hyde was of Jewish descent is without foundation and cannot be substantiated from any historical primary source. In fact, if one accepts that Brigham Young’s discourses and sermons are authorized by God then Orson Hyde could not be of Jewish descent as he died in 1878 a faithful Latter-day Saints Apostle. Moreover, a number of Latter-day Saints who are direct descendants of Orson Hyde attended the 1979 dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem (The Latter-Day Sentinel, vol. 1, No. 18, Nov. 2, 1979, p. 1), further indicating that "there is not a particle of the blood of Judaism in [them]." Jewish descent we are told would lead to apostasy with that person never returning to the church. With regard to Orson Hyde one would have to say with Brigham Young that ". . . there is not a particle of the blood of Judaism in him, if he has become a true Christian, a Saint of God; for if there is, he will most assuredly leave the Church of Christ, or that blood will be purged out of his veins." Smith’s alleged divine revelations, having occurred prior to Young’s discourse on the Jews, does not indicate any change in the Latter-day Saints God’s position that a Jew could not become a Christian before God’s direct personal intervention.
7 Despite its inherent denial of the message of Brigham Young’s discourse of December 12, 1854, concerning the Jewish people, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nevertheless, has solicited and published missionary material from some born-Jewish Latter-day Saints to be used specifically in an effort to apostatize Jews. In the tract, Why I Joined the Mormon Church by Jewish Members (formerly published as ". . . by Jewish Converts") one born-Jewish apostate writes: "I have your letter asking if I would be willing to write a letter giving my reasons as a Jew for joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the thought that the letter might be used in missionary work among the Jewish people" (p. 10). Still another Jewish convert writes: I wish to state I am of Jewish ancestry . . . (p. 14). Have born-Jewish converts to the Latter-day Church been informed that if they are truly of Jewish ancestry they will apostatize and leave the church?
8 It is certainly surprising to see that the Latter-day Saints Church published a Missionary Training Manual For Use in the Jewish Proselyting Program (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [no date]) and that such well informed Latter-day Saints as LeGrand Richards (The Mormons and the Jewish People) and Ezra Taft Benson (A Message to Judah from Joseph) should write literature that contradicts the teachings of the Latter-day Saints God.
9 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2 (1854), p. 143.
10 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2 (1854) p. 143.
11 The phrase "a white and delightsome people" is quoted from the Book of Mormon, "and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:6; 1979 ed.). (It should be noted that neither the skin pigmentation of the Indians converted to the Latter-day Saints Church nor that of their descendants has been altered in the slightest because of their adherence to Latter-day Saints doctrine.) This phrase has been changed in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon to read "a pure and delightsome people." The change was made despite the fact that the Latter-day Saints Church claims that Joseph Smith’s rendering into English of the Book of Mormon was divinely inspired. Joseph Smith stated: ". . . [W]e heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear’" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. l, pp. 54-55).
12 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7 (1859), p. 141.
13 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2 (1855), p. 279.
14 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 11 (1866), p. 279.
15 Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, vol. 4 (1857), p. 232.
16 Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978, 45:30.
17 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 15 (1872), p. 190.
18 Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 14 (1870), p. 62.
19 Joseph F. Smith, "Gathering of Latter-day Saints and of Hebrews," Liahona, vol. 15 (January, 1918), p. 469.
20 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, vol. 3, 1959, p. 9.
21 Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine—A Compedium of the Gospel, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958, p. 360.
22 Bruce McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1982, pp. 228-229.
23 Missionary Training Manual For Use in the Jewish Proselyting Program, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (no date), p. 1.
24 Smith, History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 265.
25 Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, (1867), p. 127.