At the end of Section 76, (3 Degrees of Glory) the ‘D&C Commentary’ issues a salient warning to all those who would desert the faith, by naming brother Lyman Johnson as a: ‘Particular kind of apostate’ who “never had a really happy day” after leaving the fold and ended up drowning in an accident.
“In one portion of this Revelation the eternal misery of a certain class of apostates is graphically set forth. But if such opponents of the Kingdom of God would tell the truth about themselves, they would reveal the fact that their sufferings have already commenced. Lyman E. Johnson, the first to be called to the Apostleship when the first Council of Twelve was organized, left the Church, but he never had a really happy day after that. According to President Brigham Young he, (Lyman) on one occasion, said, at a meeting of the Council:
“Brethren, – I will call you brethren – I will tell you the truth. If I could believe Mormonism – it is no matter whether it is true or not – but if I could believe Mormonism as I did when I travelled with you and preached, if I possessed the world I would give it. I would give any-thing. I would suffer my right hand to be cut off, if I could believe it again. Then I was full of joy and gladness. My dreams were pleasant. When I awoke in the morning, my spirit was cheerful. I was happy by day and by night, full of peace and joy and thanksgiving. But now it is darkness, pain, sorrow, misery in the extreme. I have never since seen a happy moment”The Doctrine and Covenants: Containing Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, Jr., the Prophet, Jan 1919
Lyman E. Johnson
Lyman was a follower of Sidney Rigdon who followed him into the Mormon church. He was an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the first even). He served missions with Orson Pratt, he was part of Zions Camp. He saw the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank, and understood that it “was instituted by the will and revelations of God, and he had been told that it would never fail.” So was troubled when it failed, and being outspoken about it was ejected from the Quorum of the Twelve. He was excommunicated along with other church leaders David Whitmer, John Whitmer, W W Phelps, and Oliver Cowdery. There was a major falling out!
Interesting that we have this reference of what Lyman Johnson said, by way of Brigham Young. There is no other reference to Lyman saying anything of the sort, so it must be asked if the quote is authentic or if Brigham is simply putting words in his mouth to make his point. He could easily be rephrasing anything Lyman said to drive his point home. Young on other occasions said things like apostates were horrible creatures who betrayed their friends. What it really speaks of is the dark night of the soul Lyman must have felt as he could no longer choose to believe that the church was true. He struggled with this dark fact and would trade the knowledge he has now for the ignorant bliss he had before. Brigham Young and the church today continue to spin the narrative that those who leave the church are miserable.
It’s also likely that Lyman would have said something different and explained that he was somewhat happier, just as the vast majority of those who leave say when telling their own story. Had Lyman said anything of the sort we know that Brigham Young wouldn’t have listened, he wouldn’t have been able to hear or understand that from within his own worldview, and even if he did, he wouldn’t want to share that truth with his followers. He still would have written what he did because he thought Lyman wasn’t worthy of respect and was a liar now since he has rejected Brigham’s own authority over him. He would have “discerned the truth” and ignored whatever Lyman said.
This quote comes from the Journal of Discourses, which is online now and easy enough to look up. Brigham is bashing those who have left the church and claiming that they are all liars and would tell us that they have not experienced joy and happiness since leaving the church if they would tell the truth.
But take the experience of the apostates, and the experience of those who have risen up in opposition to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Gospel brought forth and contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and in the Book of Mormon, and the revelations that he was the honored instrument in the hands of God of revealing to the people; those that rise up in opposition to this, who are they and what is their end? You will hear one fact from them:
“Brother ___, have you enjoyed yourself since resigning ‘Mormonism?’ Now speak the truth. Come, tell us just as it is. Have you experienced joy and happiness since leaving the kingdom of God? Come, now, don’t lie!” Brother ___ answers, “I have not enjoyed one day’s peace since I left the Church.” This is the declaration of the apostates today, when they tell the truth about it. Look at their countenances—is there happiness depicted there? No, it is sorrow; they choose error instead of truth, they love darkness rather than light, and the end thereof, to use Scripture language, is death.
The sorrow thereof they feel every day, for man’s spirit is operated upon continually. We are as independent in our organization as the Gods are, but still we are creatures of circumstances, influenced by the spirits and by the powers of eternity that are here and round about us. We are here and are operated upon by them in our organizations. This is the place where every man commences to acquire the germ of the independence that is enjoyed in the heavens. These influences, in comparison, are like the cooling breezes from the mountains that are so grateful to us, that revive and refresh us, that give us life. But on the other hand, here comes the miasma from the swamp, bringing disease and death, and without knowing we inhale the poisonous air, we become conscious of weakness, we feel that we are taking fever, that we are getting sick—we become a prey to the enemy, and death ensues. That is the difference between the two influences that operate continually on mankind. It is either enjoyment or suffering. All are subject to these elements in which we live. Here is the good operating, all the time telling men and women, before passing the ordeals of redemption, that they must repent, that then the light of Christ will be upon them from time to time, to operate upon their minds, teaching them—you are doing wrong, you are saying that which is not right, you have renounced the Book of Mormon, you have renounced the Doctrine and Covenants, you have renounced Joseph, your endowments, or Celestial Law.
When they reveal the truth of their hearts, they will say, as Lyman E. Johnson said, at one of our Quorum meetings, after he had apostatized and tried to put Joseph out of the way. Lyman told the truth. He said, “Brethren—I will call you brethren—I will tell you the truth. If I could believe ‘Mormonism’—it is no matter whether it is true or not—but if I could believe ‘Mormonism’ as I did when I traveled with you and preached, if I possessed the world I would give it. I would give anything, I would suffer my right hand to be cut off, if I could believe it again. Then I was full of joy and gladness. My dreams were pleasant. When I awoke in the morning my spirit was cheerful. I was happy by day and by night, full of peace and joy and thanksgiving. But now it is darkness, pain, sorrow, misery in the extreme. I have never since seen a happy moment.”
Lyman E. Johnson belonged to the Quorum of the Twelve; he was the first man called when the Twelve were called; his name was first, Brigham Young’s second, and Heber C. Kimball’s third. The testimony that he gave of his bitter experience is the testimony that every apostate would give if they would tell the truth. But will they acknowledge it? No, because they do not want to tell the truth.Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Volume 19, Discourse 8
In this discourse, it certainly does seem like Brigham Young is simply speaking for Lyman and claiming that since Lyman left the church has “never since seen a happy moment.” He doesn’t include the fact that Lyman didn’t actually leave the church, but was excommunicated, and had good reason to leave the church. Not only does Brigham Young spread this false idea that all who leave the church suffer even in this life and in the life to come, but also the church continues this mindset. They included it in the manual about this section quoted at the beginning of this article, but the current President of the church Russell Nelson also calls out those who leave as “lazy learners and lax disciples.” Leaders would like those who leave the church, to leave the church alone too, or in some cases, just go bowling. They’re afraid of what these disaffected members will say because it will likely lead others out too, so they speak for them. They tell their stories for them – and it’s never flattering. That’s part of the mission of this site, to allow everyone to tell their own story about why they left, that they are no longer Mormon. Read the “I was a Mormon” stories here.
Lyman may have been forced out of the church due to failed prophecies (and banks), but he believed it. If we can believe the quote from Brigham Young, we can see Lyman also struggled with being separated from the church. This is an agony that orthodox members do not understand because they have not experienced it.
Like all prophets and apostles to the present day, Brigham Young promotes the false idea that apostates CANNOT be happy, have sinned, and are, and will, be miserable because it is a just punishment.
In this supposed statement by Lyman Johnson, we might find some echoes from our own lives, coming away from a faith that once held so much value, meaning, and cherished associations. Whenever I’m talking to a non-member about my views on Mormonism, they don’t seem to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ active members can do the things they do and believe the things they do. To help them understand how a Mormon feels, I find myself falling back on my memory – what it was like for me, or what I felt when I too was active.
The advantage for us ex-Mormons, is that we now see both sides of the same coin… what made it right for us to be in Mormonism and what made it wrong to remain. When we look backward, there are things we remember with nostalgia and happiness. Yes, we were – to some extent, living through a dream and we have now woken up, but when members accuse us of ‘losing the spirit,’ they mean, rejecting what we once felt. But that is impossible. What we felt is locked into MEMORY. It is stored forever. It is part of what has made us what we are – who we are. Orthodox Mormons do not understand that we ex-Mormons have lost NOTHING. Indeed, it is by the retrieval of our past MEMORY… our emotions, impressions, and testimony, that we have been able to re-evaluate and see the CONTRAST of our own mental reactions and emotions, compared with hitherto previously unknown facts and information.
To put it poetically (and I think, very beautifully) John O’Donohue wrote in his book, Eternal Echoes:
“As we journey onward in life increasingly spaces within us fill with absence. We begin to have more and more friends among the dead. Every person suffers the absence of their past. It is utterly astonishing how the force and fibre of each day unravel into the vacant air of yesterday. You look behind you and you see nothing of your days here. Our vanished days increase our experience of absence. Yet our past does not deconstruct as if it never was. Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. Memory rescues experience from total disappearance. The kingdom of memory is full of the ruins of presence.
It is astonishing how faithful experience actually is; how it never vanishes completely. Experience leaves deep traces in us. It is surprising, that years after something has happened to you, the needle of thought can hit some groove in the mind and the music of a long-vanished event can rise in your soul as fresh and vital as the evening it happened. Memory provides such shelter and continuity of identity. Memory is also fascinating because it is a subtle and latent presence in one’s mind. The past seems to be gone and absent. Yet the grooves in the mind hold the traces and vestiges of everything that has ever happened to us. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten … it is only through the act of remembrance, literally remembering, that we can come to poise, integrity and courage … We need to retrieve the activity of remembering, for it is here that we are rooted and gathered … ”Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, John O’Donohue
It seems to me, that just as orthodox Mormons today are palpably disabled from understanding the anger, betrayal, and outspokenness of ex-Mormons, so in Brigham Young’s day, they were equally incapable of understanding men like Lyman Johnson. How he could voice a regret that he no longer believed and how could he re-live his memories of how things used to be, yet not remain with the Saints? You notice he would have loved to have retained belief and admitted the loss of an emotional peace that comes with the crutch of religion. He is virtually acknowledging that it was so nice to have been in delusion or deep contented sleep.
What would Lyman (who clearly saw that God’s predicted promises had failed) have made of today’s church? What would he say if he could have seen its current greed, corruption, and deception? His rhetoric would likely be less kindly! Lastly, you notice that this man felt at home and missed some of his LDS associates – the sociality and culture. It is why he wanted to visit occasionally – retaining friendly warmth toward the members, whilst at the same time, unable to compromise his own honesty and conviction that this religion – this institution, which we all remember as once so precious, turns out to be so pathetically fraudulent.
Contributors to wasmormon.org tell an entirely different story about their own happiness since leaving the Mormon church. They state clearly and consistently that they are happier now than they ever were when living within the bounds, manipulation, and dissonance of the church. See what they have answered to the same question Brigham Young asks here: “Are you Happy?” Consider adding your own story to the site so you too can answer Brother Brigham’s “Have you enjoyed yourself since resigning Mormonism?” question.
- Are You Happy since leaving the Mormon Church?
- Brigham Young on Apostates
- Mormon Fearmongering & Marginalizing Liberal Agenda at BYU Devotional
- Demonizing Doubt: Nelson’s Talk on Lazy Learners and Lax Disciples