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Sketch of Sidney Rigdon – Part 2

Ok, I just finished the Sidney Rigdon book, and wanted to give some of my overall impressions, as well as present some information about his life.  I had intended to give an overall sketch of his life, but this post is long enough, so I will probably do this in a few parts. I like this quote from the introduction.

“Together, Rigdon and Smith, in a theological partnership, led a religious revolution that is still on-going in many respects.  Rigdon’s role in the birth of Mormonism was substantial, yet the lion’s share of his contribution has been obscured by official alteration of official church records.”

Sidney Rigdon grew up in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area.  He had a natural interest in religion, and always wanted to preach, despite his father’s opposition, and desire for Sidney to work on the farm.  Sidney eventually associated with the Baptist religion, and became good friends with Alexander Campbell, who served as a mentor to help, and helped Sidney become a pastor.

As pastor, Sidney loved religious debates.  As Joseph Smith mentions in the Pearl of Great Price, this time period was one of great religious excitement.  Sidney was a great orator, and an excellent debator.  Several of the Baptists split from the Reformed Baptist movement, and formed a loosely knit baptist movement.  Campbell’s group went on to become a group known today as the Disciples of Christ.

In 1830, Rigdon had been hearing reports of the gold bible.  One of the former members of his congregation, Parley P. Pratt, came to his house in November of 1830, and introduced him to the Book of Mormon.  At first Rigdon thought poorly of the book, and wasn’t interested.  But Parley persisted, and Rigdon eventually read the BoM and became converted.

Rigdon then introduced the Book of Mormon to his congregation, which created a great controversy.  About 100 of his congregation chose to join Sidney in the LDS church.  But the rest were very disappointed in Rigdon, and couldn’t believe he would be decieved by Joseph Smith.  Of course, this created quit some friction between Rigdon and Campbell.  Campbell too read the Book of Mormon, and was one of the first to put out an attack on the book’s credibility.  He challenged Rigdon to several debates about the Book of Mormon.

A few of the things that attracted Rigdon to the BoM, was the prohibition on infant baptism, the idea of a restored church, and that God speaks through prophets.  These were things that Rigdon already believed, and some of the things he was troubled about with the Baptist religion. This new religion help many of Rigdon’s beliefs and seemed like a natural fit.

Rigdon was baptized without ever meeting the prophet Joseph Smith.  A few months later, they met, and instantly became friends.  Rigdon was known for his oratorical skills, and many felt that he was a more effective preacher, than even the Prophet Joseph.  He was also trained in the Bible, unlike Smith.  Rigdon was soon added to the First Presidency, and eventually held the title of Assistant President of the Church.

Sidney’s conversations with Joseph led to many of the revelations on the Law of Consecration, as well as the 3 Degrees of Glory.  Sidney also assisted Joseph with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible during this early time period of the early church.  As I stated in my previous post on Sidney, it was not uncommon for religious leaders to make new versions of the Bible.  Of course, Joseph’s version was different in that it didn’t refer to ancient Hebrew or Greek manuscripts, but rather is based on revelation.

Sidney had previously been exposed to some communities that tried to live with all things in common.  This seems to be the impetus for much of the D&C revelations dealing with the subject of Consecration.  However, many of the non-mormons viewed this Law of Consecration as a ploy to steal their land, and became irate with this idea.  They viewed Joseph and Sidney as more of religious swindlers, trying to set up a scheme to get rich and take over the area.  On page 115 of the book,

Symonds Ryder, probable ringleader of Campbellite mischief, clarified that Rigdon and Smith were not assaulted because of their beliefs.  “The people of Hiram were liberal about religion, and had not been averse to Mormon teaching,” he said afterwards.  What infuriated the evildoers were some official documents they found, possibly a copy of the revelation outlining the “Law of Consecration and Stewardship,” which instructed new converts about “the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith.” [Symonds Rider letter to A.S. Hayden, 1 Feb 1868]

Most Mormons are familiar with the story of Joseph Smith being tarred and feathered in Ohio, and then getting up the next morning after cleaning himself the best he could, and preaching a sermon.  Joseph obviously had been beaten badly.

But less well known is that Sidney had been dragged out of his house by the ankles, with his head rattling on the wood floor, as well as the frozen ground.  Sidney was beaten unconscious, tarred and feathered.  The mob then went to Joseph’s house, dragged him to the same spot as Sidney.  When Joseph first saw Sidney, he thought Sidney was dead, and feared the same would happen to him.  Sidney was beaten so severely, that he was in bed for weeks.  Many historians believe these head injuries may have contributed to some of Rigdon’s future erratic behavior.  The author states that the men could have easily killed both men if they wanted, but rather it seems they wanted to send a message of intimidation.  If they wanted to kill Smith and Rigdon, they would have brought weapons, not tar and feathers.  It seems they really just wanted to scare them out of town.  It worked–Smith and Rigdon soon left Hiram, Ohio for Kirtland.  Of course, nobody was ever tried for the crime.

I’ll stop here and ask for comments or questions.  I’ll continue to add information in the coming days.

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2 comments on “Sketch of Sidney Rigdon – Part 2

  1. It seems that Van Wagoner credits Sidney with prompting much of the communalism that Joseph adopted pursuant to revelation. That being the case, would the United Oor rder or consecration other forms of communalism have occurred had Sidney not joined the Church? Or is that too secular a view of the origins of Mormon communalism? Is there room in the Mormon view of the development of doctrine and practice to allow for the input of humans like Joseph and Sidney apart from the revelations they receive?

  2. I remember one of John Dehlin’s podcasts that said that many of Joseph’s revelations came about because of other’s input. The WoW came because of Emma; Sidney Rigdon–Consecration; and there are others, but I can’t think of them right now. So, yes, I think a case could be made that communalism may not have occurred unless someone hadn’t asked Joseph about it.

    Joseph was much more liberal about theology than current mormons. Even the 13th article of faith is more liberal that we practice, “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or or good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Well, we don’t celebrate St Patrick’s contributions to Christianity, we don’t celebrate women holding the priesthood, we don’t celebrate things from buddhism, etc. But I believe that Joseph was more likely to collect these ideas into mormonism.

    “Is there room in the Mormon view of the development of doctrine and practice to allow for the input of humans like Joseph and Sidney apart from the revelations they receive?” I believe there was in the days of Joseph, but it is much tougher to embrace now. One need only look at the number of revelations received before and after 1844 to see a huge disparity in new ideas. Even the 1978 revelation isn’t afforded its own section in the D&C.

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