Recently I posted “A Message to the General Conference and the Church” by Presiding Evangelist Elbert A. Smith. This was in regards to the Fred M.’s death and the proposed ordination of Israel A. Smith as president of the church. It is worth noting here that Fred and Israel were brothers, and Elbert A. was their first cousin.
The youngest brother of Fred and Israel, W. Wallace Smith, created a controversy regarding his cousin’s article 30 years after the fact when D&C 152: 4 was introduced as an inspired document due to their similarities. I have seen a couple of comparisons, but I decided I wanted to do one of my own and color code the similarities.
Elbert A. Smith
The Lord has not changed regarding the great work of the Restoration. Neither has he turned from his people, though some of them have turned from him. Some have been lulled to sleep and inactivity by the spirit of indifference and carelessness. Some have turned away because of trivial offenses. Some have fallen away and been overcome by the grosser sins of the world: the spirit of revelry and wanton living of drinking and fornication and adultery. All such are counseled to repent with heaviness of spirit while there is yet time, and to renew their covenant that they may again be clean men and women and find peace.
D&C 152: 4
A. The Spirit saith further: I, God, have not forsaken you nor have I changed in regard to the great and important work of the Restoration which I have called you to do. Neither have I turned from you my people. This is true in spite of the fact that some of you have turned away from me and my purposes.
B. Some have been led to inactivity, yea and even lulled to sleep by the spirit of carelessness and indifference. Some have been overcome by the grosser sins of the world—the spirit of revelry, wanton living, use of drugs, drinking, and fornication—and have fallen away. And still others have turned away for personal aggrandizement, rejecting my leadership because of trivial offenses.
C. All who have done any of these things are counseled to repent with a contrite heart and heaviness of spirit while there is yet time. You are further admonished to covenant with me anew that you may again be clean men and women, and find peace.
While this plagiarism wasn’t noticed when it was canonized at the 1976 Conference, it was discovered after the fact. Folks in the Kansas City Stake were able to illustrate this to Apostle Clifford A. Cole, who then brought the issue to Duane E. Couey of the First Presidency, and they both approached W. Wallace Smith about this.
Smith explained that while he was researching the history of the presidential succession, to learn about how to best handle his own retirement and appointment of a successor, he came across Elbert A. Smith’s words. The president of the church then explained that he had a profound spiritual experience with these words, and he felt directed by the Spirit to incorporate them into the inspired document. He hoped that this plagiarism wouldn’t be discovered, because he knew there would be a lot of questions that arise because of it.
Maurice L. Draper, the other counselor in the First Presidency, was significantly less impressed and forgiving of Smith’s plagiarism. It turns out that D&C 152 wasn’t the first time that Smith had added other peoples’ words to scripture and passed it off as his own. D&C 148:5 was also plagiarized! In 1982 Draper said (full letter here):
When pressed past the point of passive resistance, he has become the agent of transmittal for principles and concepts expressed by others. For example, the phrase for which he is presently best known, “Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son,” (D&C 148:5) was the result of prolonged discussion between President Edwards and myself prior to the 1964 World Conference. This phrasing was used in President Edwards’ version of memos that we both wrote to President Smith reporting our discussion and urging attention to pressing issues. In addition to this phrase there are others throughout the document submitted to the church by President W. Wallace Smith containing concepts imitated by his counsellors. Yet not once is there any indication in the document themselves or in the accompanying transmittal letters or preambles that there had been any consideration of the church’s needs by his counselors or others.
One further example of this significant dependence on others for the substance of his prophetic documents, illustrative of the passiveness of his own nature, is the use by President W. Wallace Smith of material originally expressed prophetically by Elbert A. Smith.
This material is quoted virtually verbatim in Doc. & Cov. 152:4, the 1976 communication of W. Wallace Smith in which there is not the slightest allusion to the earlier expression. This failure is for me an ethical failure of the first degree. If it were to happen in an academic setting or on the publishing world the offender would be punished . I don’t think President Smith was deliberately dishonest. I do believe, however, that it is an ethical issue which illustrates how incompetence and insecurity can lead to actions that are in fact lacking in integrity.
From this it is clear that W. Wallace Smith plagiarized not only from his cousin’s writings to create scripture, but also his own counselors. His plagiarism was recognized and called out by his own counselors.
What we have here is a rare case of the words of someone other that the president’s being canonized. This sets a solid and clear precedent even within the Reorganization era of there being prophetic people whose words are worthy of canonization. Elbert A. Smith, Maurice L. Draper, and F. Henry Edwards provide wise counsel for us, and we are lucky to have their words canonized as scripture. Community of Christ truly is a church of prophetic people.
However, due to how our canonization process works it exclusively hinges on the president’s discretion to introduce counsel to the church for canonization. In short, we have a bottleneck for prophetic ministry. How many other incredibly profound writings have been written by people in our church, but because the president did not take notice, they have been lost to time? Is our tradition of inhibiting prophetic ministry one that is worthy of perpetuating?
I believe that D&C 148 and 152 represent a unique call for scripture to come from people other than the president of the church.