Lesson 14: Apostasy in Kirtland

“Lesson 14: Apostasy in Kirtland,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)

“Lesson 14,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material

Lesson 14

Apostasy in Kirtland

Introduction and Timeline

By mid-1836, Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, faced looming debt as a result of the construction of the Kirtland Temple, the purchase of land for newly arriving Saints, and financial setbacks in establishing Zion in Missouri. Church leaders established the Kirtland Safety Society, an institution similar to a bank, in anticipation that it would become a source of much-needed revenue. However, it did not succeed. Less than a year after opening, the Kirtland Safety Society closed, in large part because of opposition from some non-Mormon citizens as well as a difficult economic climate related to a nationwide financial panic. Beginning in late 1836, a spirit of apostasy and faultfinding grew in the Church, and in 1837 it continued to spread among many of the Saints, including some Church leaders. Though most Church members responded with faith during this difficult period, others openly opposed Joseph Smith—and some even called him a fallen prophet.

Early January 1837The Kirtland Safety Society opened for business.

May 1837Widespread financial panic in the United States intensified, causing many banks and businesses to collapse.

Summer 1837Joseph Smith resigned from his position as treasurer of the Kirtland Safety Society.

Late summer 1837The Kirtland Safety Society closed.

December 1837Many dissenters in Ohio, including some Church leaders, were excommunicated.

January 12, 1838Directed by revelation, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon departed Kirtland and moved to Missouri.

Student Readings

Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 22–23

Note: Although the student readings for this lesson are chapters 22–23 of Saints: Volume 1, this lesson includes information from chapters 24–25 of Saints: Volume 1.

Suggestions for Teaching

After the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, experience a season of prosperity, they are warned of their sins

Display the following statement by President Brigham Young (1801–77), and explain that he described the condition of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837:

Brigham Young

“The knees of many of the strongest men in the Church faltered” (Brigham Young, in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 317).

  • Based on your reading of chapters 22–23 of Saints: Volume 1, what may have led Brigham Young to make this statement?

  • What are some reasons a Church member today might waver in his or her faith and testimony?

Invite students to look for principles during today’s lesson that can help us remain faithful to the Lord and His Church in difficult times.

Explain that in the months after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in the spring of 1836, Kirtland continued to grow rapidly as converts gathered to be with the main body of Saints. Farms were purchased and new homes and businesses were constructed. During the summer of 1836, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles served missions in the northeastern United States and in Canada.

Invite a student to read aloud the following account by President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) of the First Presidency. Heber C. Kimball was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when he returned to Kirtland from his mission in October 1836:

Heber C. Kimball

“We were very much grieved … on our arrival in Kirtland, to see the spirit of speculation [a willingness to participate in business ventures with unusual risk] that was prevailing in the Church. Trade and traffic seemed to engross the time and attention of the Saints. … Some men, who, when I left, could hardly get food to eat, I found on my return to be men of supposed great wealth; in fact everything in the place seemed to be moving in great prosperity, and all seemed determined to become rich” (Heber C. Kimball, in Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball [1888], 111).

  • Why do you think Heber C. Kimball was “grieved” when he returned to Kirtland?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Sister Eliza R. Snow (1804–87), who later served as General President of the Relief Society. Eliza described what she observed happening during this same period of time in Kirtland, Ohio:

Eliza R. Snow

“Many who had been humble and faithful to the performance of every duty—ready to go and come at every call of the Priesthood—were getting haughty in their spirits, and lifted up in the pride of their hearts. As the Saints drank in the love and spirit of the world, the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from their hearts” (Eliza R. Snow, in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 317; see also Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [1884], 20).

  • What were some of the Saints in Kirtland doing that led them to lose the Spirit of the Lord?

Explain that Wilford Woodruff kept notes and recollections of what occurred during Church meetings held in late 1836 and early 1837.

Display the following accounts by President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) from his personal records of Church meetings. Divide students into pairs, and ask them to read the accounts together. Ask students to look for messages that were repeated in these meetings.

Wilford Woodruff

December 11, 1836: “I went up to the house of God to worship and oh, what a meeting. May it be printed upon my heart as a memorial forever. For on this day the God of Israel sharply reproved this stake of Zion [in Kirtland] through the prophets and apostles for all our sins and backslidings and also a timely warning that we may escape the Judgments of God that otherwise will fall upon us” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, ed. Scott G. Kenney [1983], 1:111; spelling and capitalization standardized).

January 10, 1837: “I met in the House of the Lord with the Quorum of the Seventies. … We had a spiritual meeting. Elder Brigham Young, one of the Twelve, gave us an interesting exhortation and warned us not to murmur against Moses (or) Joseph or the heads of the Church” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:121; spelling, capitalization, and punctuation standardized).

February 19, 1837: “Joseph returned to Kirtland, and this morning arose in the stand. … When he arose he said, ‘I am still the President, Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Leader of the church of Jesus Christ.[’] … He reproved the people sharply for their sins, darkness and unbelief; the power of God rested upon him, and bore testimony that his sayings were true” (“History of Wilford Woodruff (from His Own Pen),” Deseret News, July 14, 1858, 85).

April 9, 1837: “[President] Smith spoke in the afternoon, and said in the name of the Lord that the judgments of God would rest upon those men who had professed to be his friends … but had turned traitors to him, and the interests of the kingdom of God, and had given power into the hands of our enemies against us” (“History of Wilford Woodruff,” 86).

After sufficient time, ask:

  • What messages were repeated in these meetings?

  • Based on what Wilford Woodruff observed, what principles can we learn about the role of living prophets and apostles? (Students may identify one or more of the following principles: The Lord warns us of danger through prophets and apostles. When we heed the warnings given by the Lord’s prophets and apostles, we will escape God’s judgments.)

Display the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, and ask a student to read it aloud:

Henry B. Eyring

“Because the Lord is kind, He calls servants to warn people of danger. That call to warn is made harder and more important by the fact that the warnings of most worth are about dangers that people don’t yet think are real” (Henry B. Eyring, “A Voice of Warning,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 32).

  • What are some warnings given by the Lord’s servants in our day?

The Kirtland Safety Society closes

Kirtland Safety Society currency

Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is an example of currency from the Kirtland Safety Society.

Invite a student to read the following paragraph aloud:

In Kirtland, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders established a company called the Kirtland Safety Society, an institution similar to a bank, in hopes that it would help newly arriving members purchase land for homes and help generate revenue to pay the Church’s debts, including debt incurred from building the Kirtland Temple. However, the Kirtland Safety Society collapsed less than a year after it opened because of opposition from some non-Mormon citizens as well as economic difficulties related to a nationwide financial panic. Many investors lost their money, with Joseph Smith sustaining the greatest losses. Even though the Kirtland Safety Society was not funded by the Church, some Saints considered it a Church bank and blamed Joseph Smith for their financial problems.

Explain that a spirit of criticism led some of the Saints to oppose the Lord’s prophet. Invite students to locate chapter 24 of Saints: Volume 1. Ask a student to read aloud from page 279, starting with the paragraph that begins “By the end of June …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 280 that begins “Parley’s words pained Mary …”

Explain that Elder Parley P. Pratt had recently returned from a mission to Canada, where he taught and baptized John Taylor and his wife, Leonora. While John Taylor was visiting Kirtland, Parley approached John and expressed doubts concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Divide students into small groups, and give them copies of the accompanying handout, “John Taylor’s Response to Parley P. Pratt.” Ask each group to read John Taylor’s response to Parley Pratt and discuss their answers to the questions on the handout.

John Taylor’s Response to Parley P. Pratt

Read the following response by John Taylor, then a recent convert, to Parley P. Pratt, who had taught and baptized John a year earlier but was now speaking out against the Prophet Joseph Smith:

John Taylor

“I am surprised to hear you speak so, Brother Parley. Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God, and to the truth of the work he has inaugurated; and you said you knew these things by revelation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. You gave to me a strict charge to the effect that though you or an angel from heaven was to declare anything else I was not to believe it. Now Brother Parley, it is not man that I am following, but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to Him, and I now have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor [2001], 77).

  • Why was John Taylor’s testimony of the restored gospel unaffected when Parley P. Pratt shared his doubts about the Prophet Joseph Smith?

  • What principles can we learn from John Taylor’s reply that would help those who may struggle with questions, doubts, or concerns?

John Taylor’s Response to Parley P. Pratt handout

After sufficient time, invite a few students to share the principles they identified. It may be helpful to summarize their responses by writing the following principle on the board: Relying on the spiritual witnesses that we have already received can help us during moments of difficulty or doubt.

Display the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and ask a student to read it aloud:

Jeffrey R. Holland

“In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. … When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 93–94).

  • What can we do to remember past spiritual witnesses when we face difficult circumstances?

Ask students to think of an experience when their testimony provided courage and strength during a troubling time. Invite them to take a moment to write about that experience in their study journals. Students could also record what they will do to remember and rely upon their testimony when they experience difficulties in the future. You may want to invite a few students to share what they wrote with the class, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Apostasy in Kirtland intensifies

Kirtland Temple interior

Display the accompanying image of the interior of the Kirtland Temple.

Explain that in 1837, the spirit of dissension and apostasy spread among many of the Saints, including the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Invite students to locate chapter 25 of Saints: Volume 1. Ask a student to read aloud from page 288, starting with the paragraph that begins “Joseph traveled that same summer …” and concluding with the paragraph on pages 288–289 that begins “The temple erupted in chaos …”

  • How does this event compare with the Church meetings that took place in conjunction with the temple dedication just one year earlier, in the spring of 1836?

  • How does this event show that some of the Saints had failed to heed the warning given by prophets and apostles?

Display the following statement by Brigham Young about a meeting in which some Church leaders discussed how to remove Joseph Smith as President of the Church and replace him. Invite a student read the statement aloud, and ask the class to listen for how Brigham Young responded to the dissenters.

Brigham Young

“On a certain occasion several of the Twelve, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and others of the Authorities of the Church, held a council in the upper room of the Temple. The question before them was to ascertain how the Prophet Joseph could be deposed, and David Whitmer appointed President of the Church. Father John Smith, brother Heber C. Kimball and others were present, who were opposed to such measures. I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, [but] they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God; they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell” (Brigham Young, in “History of the Church,” Juvenile Instructor, Mar. 1871, 37; punctuation standardized).

Instead of inviting a student to read the statement by Brigham Young, consider showing part of the video “If They Harden Not Their Hearts” (11:20), which depicts Brigham Young in the Kirtland Temple bearing testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling. Show the video from time code 3:01 to 4:03. This video is available on

  • What does it mean that people cannot “destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God?”

  • What happens to those who choose to “cut the thread that [binds] them to the Prophet and to God?” (Answers given by students could be summarized into a principle, such as: Those who cut themselves off from the Lord’s prophet will lose the blessings of the restored gospel.)

Invite a student to read the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring aloud:

Henry B. Eyring

“There will be times, as there were in the days of Kirtland, when we will need the faith and the integrity of a Brigham Young to stand in the place the Lord has called us to, loyal to His prophet and to the leaders He has put in place” (Henry B. Eyring, “The Lord Leads His Church,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2017, 84).

Conclude by sharing your testimony of the truths you have discussed, and encourage students to act on those truths.

Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 24–25 of Saints: Volume 1.

Commentary and Background Information

Prophets are inspired to accomplish the Lord’s work but are not infallible

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that although Joseph Smith had weaknesses like other men, he was a true prophet and faithfully performed the work the Lord gave him to do:

D. Todd Christofferson

“We should be careful not to claim for Joseph Smith perfections he did not claim for himself. He need not have been superhuman to be the instrument in God’s hands that we know him to be. In May 1844 Joseph declared: ‘I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught’ [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 522]. And he had commented earlier: ‘Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing: the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault. Do you think that even Jesus, if He were here, would be without fault in your eyes? His enemies said all manner of evil against him—they all watched for iniquity in him’ [Teachings: Joseph Smith, 522]. Joseph was a mortal man striving to fulfill an overwhelming, divinely appointed mission against all odds. The wonder is not that he ever displayed human failings, but that he succeeded in his mission. His fruits are both undeniable and incomparable” (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Prophet Joseph Smith” [Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional, Sept. 24, 2013],

John Taylor’s Response to Parley P. Pratt handout