King Follett discourse
The King Follett discourse, or King Follett sermon, was an address delivered in Nauvoo, Illinois, by Joseph Smith, president and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, on April 7, 1844, less than three months before he was killed by a mob. The discourse was presented to a congregation of about twenty thousand Latter Day Saints at a general conference held shortly after the funeral service of Elder King Follett, who had died on March 9, 1844, of accidental injuries. The sermon is notable for its assertion that God was once a mortal man, and that mortal men and women can become gods (a concept commonly called divinization) through salvation and exaltation. These topics were, and are, controversial, and have received varying opinions and interpretations of what Smith meant. Literary critic Harold Bloom called the sermon "one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America."
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A full, verbatim account of the speech does not exist, but notes exist, taken contemporaneously, by Thomas Bullock (using a type of personal shorthand), William Clayton (writing in longhand), and Willard Richards (taking "minute"-style notes of major elements of the speech). Wilford Woodruff also took extensive contemporaneous notes and transferred the notes to his journal with editorializations, but his original notes were not preserved. One author (Searle) estimates that the surviving notes of the sermon contain roughly 30% of the words of the actual address, but that together, they are likely nearly topically complete.
A version reconstructed (by Bullock) from the Bullock and Clayton records was published in the church paper Times and Seasons of August 15, 1844. A later version resulted from amalgamation of the Richards, Woodruff, Bullock and Clayton texts. This amalgamation was done by church employee, Jonathan Grimshaw, roughly ten years after Smith's death and is generally regarded as the "official" version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) because it was carefully reviewed, edited, and approved by church authorities, including Brigham Young. It contains some text not found in any of the primary sources and contains redundancies resulting from the naïve reconstruction. These redundancies, and the parts added by Grimshaw without support in the contemporaneous notes, were removed in a modern amalgamation by Stan Larson in 1978.
Significance in Latter-day Saint theology
The sermon was not always viewed in a favorable light by leaders of the LDS Church or other denominations in the Latter Day Saint movement. It was not published in the LDS Church's 1912 History of the Church because of then-church president Joseph F. Smith's discomfort with some ideas in the sermon popularized by the editor of the project, B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy. By 1950, it was included in the revised edition of History of the Church. In 1971, the sermon was published in the Ensign, an official publication of the LDS Church.
The ideas of the King Follett sermon were a precursor to the Adam–God doctrine taught by Brigham Young, second president of the LDS Church. According to this doctrine, Adam was once a mortal man who became resurrected and exalted, followed by creating the Earth and again becoming a mortal being in the Garden of Eden before returning to heaven and to serving as the God of humankind. However, soon after Young died, the Adam–God doctrine fell out of favor within the LDS Church and was replaced by a more traditional biblical Adam and Eve theology. In 1976, church president Spencer W. Kimball stated the LDS Church does not support the Adam–God doctrine.
The LDS Church today teaches that the King Follett discourse was "the most direct, public explanation" of unique doctrines, such as that of humanity's premortal existence and divine potential, that are alluded to in Latter Day Saint scripture. However, with respect to the nature of God prior to creation, the church has stated that "Little has been revealed ... and consequently little is taught."
Doctrinal topics in the sermon include:
- the fundamental nature of reality —
- man is not a contingent being, moreover God made the world from preexisting "chaotic matter."
- "I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man ... because it has no beginning"
- "The pure principles of element, are principles that can never be destroyed."
- the character and nature of God —
- "It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another."
- "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and ... God ... (were) to make himself visible ... if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form — like yourselves in all the person, image, and the very form as a man."
- Humanity’s potential to become Gods themselves. —
- Smith discussed the potential of mankind by referencing Romans 8:17, then stating that men may go: "...from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation ... until (they) arrive at the station of a God."
- the tie between the living and their progenitors —
- "Is there nothing to be done? — no preparation — no salvation for our fathers and friends who have died without having had the opportunity to obey the decrees of the Son of Man?"
- "God hath made a provision that every spirit in the eternal world can be ... saved unless he has committed (the) unpardonable sin."
Regarding his personal religious experiences, Smith stated: "I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself." Concerned with difficulties facing the church and threats on his own life, he closed the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute address with a plea for peace and invoked God's blessing on the assembled Latter Day Saints.
The topics in the discourse were not new to Smith's preaching. Nearly all the subjects treated were continuing threads from earlier sermons. However, this discourse brought these ideas together in one connected narrative, and has had much wider distribution than most of the rest of his public utterances.
- "The King Follett Sermon (part 1)", Ensign: 13, April 1971
- Bushman (2005)
- Larson (1978).
- Searle (1979) harvtxt error: no target: CITEREFSearle1979 (help).
- Larson (1978, fn. 11).
- BYU Studies, vol. 18(1977–1978): p. 191
- J. Stapley, "A Textual History of the KFD, Part II."
- "The King Follett Sermon (part 2)", Ensign: 13, May 1971
- Buerger, David John (Spring 1982). "The Adam-God Doctrine". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 15 (1): 14–58. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
- Conference Report, p. 115 (October 1–3, 1976).
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Our Own Liahona," Ensign, November 1976, p. 77.
- Lund, Gerald N. (February 1982), "I Have a Question: Is President Lorenzo Snow's oft-repeated statement—"As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be"—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?", Ensign
- Millet, Robert L.; Reynolds, Noel B. (1998), "Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?", Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, ISBN 0934893322, OCLC 39732987
- "King Follett Discourse". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
- "Becoming Like God". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
- Times and Seasons, 5:615.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-47.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 355.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 357.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 361.
- See notes at: W. V. Smith, "A parallel account of known texts of the King Follett Discourse," The Parallel Joseph, The Book of Abraham Project, boap.org
- Times and Seasons, August 15, 1844
- Roberts, B. H., ed. (1950), History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 6 (revised ed.), Salt Lake City: Deseret News, pp. 302–17 (omitted from original 1812 edition).
- Bushman, Richard Lyman (2005), Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, New York: Knopf, p. 533, ISBN 1-4000-4270-4.
- Canon, Donald Q. (1978), "The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith's Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective", BYU Studies, 18 (2): 179–92, archived from the original on 2010-08-26.
- Canon, Donald Q.; Dahl, Larry E., eds. (1983), The Prophet Joseph Smith's King Follet Discourse: A Six-Column Comparison of Original Notes and Amalgamation., Provo, Utah.
- Ehat, Andrew F. and Cook, Lyndon W., "The Words of Joseph Smith," (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1991).
- Hale, Van (1978), The Doctrinal Impact of the King Follet Discourse, vol. 18, BYU Studies, p. 209, archived from the original on 2010-08-26.
- Larson, Stan (1978), "The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text", BYU Studies, 18 (2): 193–208, archived from the original on 2010-08-26.
- Ludlow, Daniel H., Editor, Church History, Selections From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. ISBN 0-87579-924-8.
- Searle, Howard C., "Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons," Ph.D. Dissertation, UCLA, 1979. pp. 270ff.
- Smith, Joseph Fielding, editor. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS), Salt Lake City, 1938. Section Six 1843–44, pp. 342–61.
- Smith, W.V., editor, "The Parallel Joseph" at www.boap.org.
- Stapley, J. "A Textual History of the KFD, Part I: Sources to the 'History of Joseph Smith'" at www.splendidsun.com.[unreliable source?]
- Stapley, J. "A Textual History of the KFD, Part II" at www.splendidsun.com.[unreliable source?]
- Biography of King Follett, The Joseph Smith Papers