Sunday, February 12, 2017

From LDS apostle to spiritualist: the journey of Amasa Mason Lyman

By Doug Gibson

In the spring 1983 edition of Dialogue, author Loretta L. Hefner recounts a sermon Mormon prophet Brigham Young delivered in 1867. Young said that doctrinal deviancy was not limited to the church rank and file. In fact, Young continued, among the present 12 apostles, “one did not believe in the existence of a personage called God,” another “believes that infants have the spirits of some who have formerly lived on earth,” and the third “has been preaching on the sly ... that the Savior was nothing more than a good man, and that his death had nothing to do with your salvation or mine.” 

Young was a sometimes caustic, even sarcastic LDS president, who once said that he kept the apostles in his pocket to take out when needed. He was not shy of public denunciations. The first two apostles mentioned by Young were Orson Pratt and Orson Hyde. Although Young used his influence late in life to make sure neither would be in a position to lead the LDS Church, Pratt and Hyde remained apostles.

The third apostle Young mentioned, Amasa Mason Lyman, would not survive his “heresy.” Lyman, baptized by Orson Pratt at 18, served 16 missions, spent months in a filthy Missouri jail cell with Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and attained the rank of apostle, only to lose it all in the final decade of his life. 

As Hefner relates in the Dialogue article, “From Apostle to Apostate: The Personal Struggle of Amasa Mason Lyman,” the LDS apostle proved his commitment to Mormonism countless times, but never seemed to shake an eccentric interest in spiritualism. In the 1850s, while establishing a branch of the church in San Bernadino, California, Lyman participated in seances.

The apostle’s interest in spiritualism might have remained a tolerated hobby — and of no danger to his church standing — had he not embraced “what later historians have termed the golden age of liberal theology,” writes Hefner. During this time, Lyman seems to have embraced “universalism,” or a belief that man, being derived from God, was inherently good and did not need Christ’s sacrifice to attain salvation.

In separate speeches — in 1862 in Dundee, Scotland and 1863 in Beaver, Utah — Lyman preached that Christ was only a moral reformer, and that man could redeem himself by correcting his errors. In short, Lyman denied the need for a savior.

To continue reading this essay, go to the Standard-Examiner web article, where the essay was previously published. It was first published on the now-defunct StandardBlogs.

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