“King Follett Discourse,” Church History Topics
“King Follett Discourse”
On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith rose to speak in what would prove to be his last conference. After asking the Saints for their “profound attention,”1 he explained that he would speak about the dead, in response to a request from the family and friends of King Follett, a Church member who had recently died in an accident. There is no complete or verbatim record of what Joseph said, but several individuals took notes, making this one of Joseph’s best-recorded sermons.2
In the sermon, Joseph taught about divine nature and eternal progression. He countered the long-standing theological tradition that treated God as wholly different than humanity. He explained that “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.”3 He taught that God “was once as one of us” and that “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were “susceptible of enlargement,” having the capacity to become like God in the eternities.4 Joseph also taught that a core part of each person is coeternal with God, comparing this divine core to a ring, without beginning or end.
The King Follett sermon was the most direct, public explanation of these doctrines, but it was not the first time they had been introduced. The Book of Mormon and the book of Moses both contain passages that stood at odds with the theological position dominant in Joseph Smith’s day that God is “without body, parts, or passions.”5 Revelations received by Joseph Smith as early as 1832 taught that spirits existed “in the beginning with God” and that through the power of Jesus Christ’s Atonement, individuals could “receive their inheritance and be made equal with him,” becoming gods.6 Joseph Smith had elaborated on these revelations in various settings, helping others grasp the implications of his teachings.7
Even for people who were aware of Joseph Smith’s earlier teachings on the premortal existence, divine nature, and exaltation, the King Follett discourse stood apart as the defining moment when those key concepts powerfully came together. One Church member who heard the sermon described it as overwhelming evidence that Joseph Smith had “the Spirit of Inspiration.”8 Nearly 50 years after the address, Wilford Woodruff, while speaking at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, declared that listening to the discourse was the strongest spiritual experience of his life.9 But the sermon was not without critics. Two months after the sermon, dissident Latter-day Saints published a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor, in which they denounced the Prophet’s teachings as blasphemous and cited them as a reason for their speaking out against Joseph Smith.10 Subsequent critics of the Church have also attacked the sermon’s teachings.
Since 1844, the Church has continued to teach the core doctrines that Joseph presented in the King Follett discourse and to view the plan of salvation in light of the truths Joseph Smith taught about humankind’s premortal existence, mortal experience, and divine eternal potential.
Related Topics: Mother in Heaven