In June 1828 Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism,
joined the Methodist Church [probationary class] in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
This was a strange thing for this prophet of a new religion to do,
and seriously challenges the story he put out ten years later about
the origin of his work.
That later story claims that in 1820 Joseph Smith
had seen two glorious personages, identified as the Father and the
Son, and was informed that the creeds of all the "sects,"
or various denominations, "were an abomination" and he
was twice forbidden to join any of them.
In retelling this same tale to Alexander Neibaur
on May 24, 1844, Joseph specifically singled out the Methodist Church
as being unworthy of his membership. Mr. Neibaur's diary recorded
the divine warning as related by Joseph: "Mr. Smith then asked
must I join the Methodist Church - No - they are not my People.
They have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one."
(quoted in The Improvement Era, April 1970, p.12).
Perhaps the death of his first-born son on June
15, 1828 induced him to seek membership in the church his wife had
belonged to since she was seven years old. Joseph had told his neighbor,
Joshua McKune, that "his (Smith's) first born child was to
translate the characters and hieroglyphics upon the plates, into
our language, at the age of three years." (The Susquehanna
Register, May 1, 1834, p.1). When this child died at birth instead,
and his wife's life also hung in danger, Smith may have considered
entirely abandoning his project of writing a book and decided to
join the Methodist Church. At least Martin Harris later told Rev.
Ezra Booth that when he went to Pennsylvania to see Joseph about
the translation that "Joseph had given it up on account of
the opposition of his wife and others," and Martin "told
Joseph, 'I have not come down here for nothing, we will go on with
it.' " (The Story of the Mormons, by William Alexander
Linn, New York: Macmillan Co. 1902, p.36).
The young prophet's roll as a Methodist member did
not last very long, however - only three days according to statements
made by his wife's cousins, Joseph and Hiel Lewis. In their local
newspaper at Amboy, Illinois they told of their earlier years with
Joseph Smith in Pennsylvania and of his uniting with their Methodist
He presented himself in a very serious and humble
manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on
the class book, in the absence of some of the official members.
(The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, April 30, 1879,
When Joseph Lewis, who was twenty-one at the time
(about a year and a half younger than Smith), learned of this act,
he felt that Joseph's manner of life rendered him unfit to be a
member and told him either to "publicly ask to have his name
stricken from the class book, or stand a disciplinary investigation."
Mr. Lewis gave further details about the incident a month after
the first article appeared in the Amboy paper, and he wrote:
I, with Joshua McKune, a local preacher at that
time, I think in June, 1828, heard on Saturday, that Joe Smith
had joined the church on Wednesday afternoon, (as it was customary
in those days to have circuit preaching at my father's house on
week-day). We thought it was a disgrace to the church to have
a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding
ghosts, in it. So on Sunday we went to father's, the place of
meeting that day, and got there in season to see Smith and talked
with him some time in father's shop before the meeting. Told him
that his occupation, habits, and moral character were at variance
with the discipline, that his name would be a disgrace to the
church, that there should have been recantation, confession and
at least promised reformation-. That he could that day publicly
ask that his name be stricken from the class book, or stand an
investigation. He chose the former, and did that very day make
the request that his name be taken off the class book. (The
Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1).
Like so many of the early Methodist records, the
early class books of the Harmony (now Lanesboro) Church are lost,
so we will never know for certain whether Joseph Smith remained
a member for only three days or six months. However, there was never
any dispute that he had become a member, and by this one act he
undercut the story he later put forth that God in a special vision
had instructed him specifically not to join the Methodist Church.
Wesley P. Walters