I have been a member for 30 years and still cannot justify the violent writings of Brighan Young nd others in The Journal of Discourses concerning Blood Sacrifice and his all out force of plural marriage on those who were very uncomfortable with it. I understand there is only one unforgivable sin which is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Some of the writings are not the teachings of the Church I go to every Sunday. Would you please explain to me how this is the Gospel?
The Journal of Discourses is a very interesting collection of writings from the early history of the church, however there are some important points to remember when reading them.
First of all the issues you bring up, blood atonement and polygamy, are both very complex in nature, as well as in record. Just as when studying any doctrinal matter in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning with sincere prayer is essential. This is something I’ve learned from my own perusal through the volumes.
Second, it needs to be remembered that the Journal of Discourses, while containing the words of prophets and other early leaders in the church, is not considered scripture by the church.
The official written doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is found in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. There are many other excellent writings from the early years of the church including Lectures on Faith, and Jesus The Christ a little later on. However, neither of these inspiring volumes are scripture. As such, they have no binding force upon the doctrines or beliefs of the church.
There is a defined process by which the canon of scripture is added upon in the church.
1. It must come from the prophet as a revelation. The revelation in question must be directed to the general membership of the church entirely. This means specific revelations to individuals or units within the church typically are not presented for inclusion in the standard works.
2. It must be presented to the First Presidency for acceptance as true revelation.
3. It must be presented to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for acceptance as true revelation.
4. It must then be presented to successive general authorities for acceptance as true revelation.
5. It must finally be presented to the general membership of the church for acceptance as true revelation.
This pertains to the Journal of Discourses because none of those writings, as a whole or in part, have been presented as direct revelation to the church at large. This is why it is not binding as authoritative scripture. Another example would be President Gordon B. Hinkley’s book Standing For Something. It is an excellent book, and it contains the words of a then living prophet, yet it is not official scripture.
Third, prophets do not always speak under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This most definitely includes Brigham Young. We need to remember that the prophets of God are still mortal men. They are still free to think and act as they will. As they still possess their agency, they still possess the ability to be wrong, and to make mistakes.
Even Moses took credit for the miracle of the water coming from the rock as he smote it. He was most definitely a prophet, but he was wrong in what he said in an emotional moment.
Jonah actually fled from a call from Jehovah. Surely running from one’s priesthood responsibilities is not part of the Law of Moses, yet Jonah remained authoritative when he did his duty.
Finally, the church is also built upon the doctrine of continuing revelation from Heavenly Father to his prophet this very day. Because of this, successive prophets have authority to clarify, expand upon, or override the words of previous prophets. An example of this is seen in the missionary effort. For the longest time the standard for missionary service was based upon spiritual cleanliness and worthiness. Now the standard has been changed to include physical fitness and good health. This means that many who would have been able to serve before may not be able to do so now.
The Journal of Discourses comes from a different time, from people with a different world view than today. It is not something that can be read and understood quickly.