Thursday, January 15, 2015

True or False: White Horse Prophecy

Mormons believe strongly in prophecies. Some of them are well-known - the kind you hear in church lessons - the scriptural ones designed to strengthen faith and make known God’s promises to his people. Others are less publicized. They are whispered in high priest group meetings or firesides and tell of dramatic events soon to come. Notorious among these is the White Horse prophecy, which prophesies some astounding things awaiting the Saints before the Second Coming. But is there any truth to the legend? Looks like it’s time to play…

Today's Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that "A terrible revolution will take place in the land of America," and "the land will be left without a supreme government," that "Father will be against Son and Son against Father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother" and "hundreds and thousands of the honest in heart in the world" will gather to the Rocky Mountains for safety under the guardianship of a Church-led legion of "the great white horse"1?

I first encountered this one in the MTC. Missionaries love dramatic Mormon stories and I heard vivid descriptions of this prophecy. Some of the elders there thought they might someday be called upon by the Church to serve in a militaristic protection league charged with protecting freedom-loving refugees. Parts of this story definitely smelled of sensational hoorah, but there were also elements that didn't sound so crazy, like financial meltdowns and government corruption. I'd seen evidence of these in my own lifetime. So is this story true, at least in part? What do you think?




This prophecy is too long to describe in much detail here, but the gist of it is that the American government is supposed to fall and while the rest of the nation turns to ruin the Saints in the Rocky Mountains will have untold amounts of gold and silver and be able to provide protection to all who come seeking refuge. All of this is described in symbolic terms with the white horse, the black horse, the red horse, and who knows what other horse. It's a lurid and convoluted prophecy and was supposedly given by Joseph Smith to some associates in Nauvoo. Parts of the prophecy are factual, like those which describe the Saints fleeing to the Rocky Mountains and the Constitution being rescued from danger. 

But the account has all sorts of problems. First of all, not a single record of the prophecy has been found dating to the time it was supposedly given. The most prominent account of the story comes from Edwin Rushton, who didn't come forward with it until 1902.Sound a little sketchy to you? Yeah. Joseph F. Smith thought so, as well. Here's what he had to say about it in the October 1918 general conference:

"The ridiculous story about the "red horse," and "the black horse," and "the white horse," and a lot of trash that has been circulated about and printed and sent around as a great revelation given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a matter that was gotten up, I understand, some ten years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by two of our brethren who put together some broken sentences from the Prophet that they may have heard from time to time, and formulated this so-called revelation out of it, and it was never spoken by the prophet in the manner in which they have put it forth. It is simply false; that is all there is to it."3

Not very subtle, right? Here's one prophet who doesn't seem to put much stock in this prophecy (what with him calling it "trash" and all). Bruce R. McConkie backed up that statement when he said:

"From time to time, accounts of various supposed visions, revelations, and prophecies are spread forth by and among the Latter-day Saints, who should know better than to believe or spread such false information. One of these false and deceptive documents that has cropped up again and again for over a century is the so-called White Horse Prophecy. This supposed prophecy purports to be a long and detailed account by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the wars, turmoils, and difficulties which should exist in the last days."4

 So there you have it. If you ever hear this legend circulating among your local Mormons you can rest assured that it is 100% falsety-false. How are we to respond when we hear stories like these? I think it's best to remember what Joseph Fielding Smith said when addressing the white horse prophecy: 

 "I want to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that if you understand the Church articles and covenants, if you will read the scriptures and become familiar with those things which are recorded in the revelations from the Lord, it will not be necessary for you to ask any questions in regard to the authenticity or otherwise of any purported revelation, vision, or manifestation that proceeds out of darkness, concocted in some corner, surreptitiously presented, and not coming through the proper channels of the Church. Let me add that when a revelation comes for the guidance of this people, you may be sure that it will not be presented in some mysterious manner contrary to the order of the Church. It will go forth in such form that the people will understand that it comes from those who are in authority, for it will be sent either to the presidents of stakes and the bishops of the wards over the signatures of the presiding authorities... It will not spring up in some distant part of the Church and be in the hands of some obscure individual without authority, and thus be circulated among the Latter-day Saints."5

Remember, wild stories abound wherever you go. Some Mormons feel the Church is just too drab as is, and so they spice things up with "long lost" prophecies of an apocalypse. But when it comes to legends like these, it's best to use a little horse sense. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

1. Hunter, J. Michael. "The White Horse Prophecy." In Mormon Myth-ellaneous: Amazing True Mormon Stories--and Some That Should Be!, 75-76. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2008.

2.  see Hunter, pp. 73-82.

3. Smith, Joseph F. Conference Report (October 1918).

4. McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966. 835.

5.  Smith, Joseph Fielding. Conference Report (October 1918).

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