Section 32: Mission to the Lamanites
Section 32 was received within three weeks of the conference in Fayette on September 26-28, 1830, though the exact date is not known. Joseph reported that some time close to the September conference, the elders manifested a great desire to know if additional missionaries couldn’t be sent with Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr., so that the Lamanites might enjoy the blessings of the gospel all the sooner (HC, 1:118). In consequence of their urging, Joseph inquired of the Lord and received in reply section 32. Section 32 was not printed in the Book of Commandments but was recorded in the Kirtland Revelation Book, and was included in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
It must be understood that today, few, if any, of the American Indians are believed to have descended from the people of Book of Mormon. In 1830, however, it was generally believed, even by Joseph Smith, that most, of not all, of the Native Americans originated from the Book of Mormon people. There was consequently much interest among the saints in the proposed mission to the Lamanites. It was hoped that the time had come for the redemption of the scattered remnant of the Book of Mormon peoples prophesied in the Book of Mormon. In section 32, two additional men are called to accompany Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jr., on their mission to the Lamanites. These are Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson.
As soon as this revelation was received, Emma Smith and other sisters began collecting and making clothes and procuring other necessities for the four missionaries, since some of the four were not able to cover the costs themselves.
1 And now concerning my servant Parley P. Pratt, behold, I say unto him that as I live I will that he shall declare my gospel and learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart.
verse 1 “learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart” Because Parley was an ordained Baptist minister and missionary when he joined the Church, one might have expected him to have an agenda of his own, independent of Joseph or Hyrum or Oliver. Throughout his life of incredible service to the Church and in some of its highest offices, he remained for the most part “meek and lowly of heart.”
2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.
verse 2 “into the wilderness among the Lamanites” According to Elder Spencer W. Kimball: “Wilford Woodruff, president of the Lord’s Church, identified many of the larger [North American] tribes as ‘Lamanites’ . . . as have all the presidents and leaders of the Church since. So we look upon the name as proper and dignified and fully acceptable” (Kimball, Lamanites, 3).
It is important for the student of the scriptures to know that many truths have been revealed, and will continue to be revealed, by the Lord to his Church gradually and incrementally. The Lord did not in 1830 and does not now give all truths to his prophets as “writing on a wall.” Often, seeking and questioning over a period of many years is necessary for some revealed truths to finally become clear. The truths about the genealogical origins of the American Indians is a prime example of this principle. Other examples have included the Lord’s desire that polygamy be practiced in his Church, the church’s policy of Blacks and the priesthood, and the concept of Zion. This does not mean that Wilford Woodruff, Spencer Kimball, and the other latter-day prophets were not true prophets of God. They certainly were. This pattern of gradual revelation— always in response to prayerful and persistent wondering and questioning—is simply the nature of the Lord’s dealing with the prophets of his kingdom here in this mortal, telestial world.
3 And Ziba Peterson also shall go with them; and I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them.
verse 3 Ziba Peterson had been baptized on April 18, 1830, by Oliver Cowdery, and now as a member for less than six months he was called to the Lamanite mission. Ziba left the Church in 1833.
4 And they shall give heed to that which is written, and pretend to no other revelation; and they shall pray always that I may unfold the same to their understanding.
verse 4 “pretend to no other revelation” Coming so soon after the affair of Hiram Page and his “seer stone,” in which even Oliver had been deceived, it seems reasonable that the Lord would warn the elders here to stick to the scriptures and make no pretense of receiving other revelations.
“pray always” It is vital to maintain a constant attitude of prayer in order that we might conquer Satan and escape his servants (D&C 10:5), have the Spirit poured out upon us (see D&C 19:38), avoid temptation (see D&C 20:33; 31:12), keep our reward (see D&C 31:12), and receive understanding of the scriptures (see D&C 32:4).
5 And they shall give heed unto these words and trifle not, and I will bless them. Amen.
verse 5 “trifle not” To trifle is to deal lightly without appropriate seriousness or respect.
Parley Parker Pratt
He was born in 1807 and was eighteen months younger than the Prophet. He grew up in Canaan, New York, and learned to work hard on a farm. As a boy, he became associated with the Baptist Church. At age nineteen he set out for the frontier, but got as far as the Kirtland area and decided to stay. There he laid the foundation of a home in the wilderness. At age twenty he returned to Canaan, his boyhood home, and married Thankful Halsey. The newly married couple then returned to their wilderness home in the Ohio territory.
About this time, Parley heard Sidney Rigdon preach. The Campbellites’ version of the “ancient gospel in pure form” appealed to Parley. Still missing in Parley’s mind was the authority or the proper priesthood line, however.
He determined to take up the ministry as his life’s work, and in August 1830 he sold his property in Ohio and commenced his mission, which was to travel and preach to anyone who would listen, especially to the Indians. He traveled with his wife toward his boyhood home in Canaan. On arriving in Buffalo, he felt inspired to send his wife on ahead, and he remained in the area of Wayne County. From an old Baptist deacon named Hamlin, he heard of a strange new book, the Book of Mormon. He obtained a copy and eagerly read it. He then traveled to Palmyra and met with Hyrum Smith— talking with him all one night. He was almost immediately converted, and he and Hyrum traveled on foot to Fayette where he was baptized by Oliver Cowdery. He was also confirmed and ordained an elder.
He then joined his wife and family in Canaan. On telling them about the Restoration, his nineteen-year-old younger brother Orson Pratt was immediately converted. Parley returned to Palmyra. Orson also traveled to Fayette to inquire as to his duty in the kingdom.
Parley was called to the first group of missionaries sent out from Fayette to preach to the American Indians. He was the only member of the missionary group who was married.
He was born in Pennsylvania in 1793 and was thus about thirteen years older than Joseph Smith. At age twenty-five he joined the Baptist Church, and a year later he obtained a license as a Baptist minister. He was given charge of a Baptist congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While engaged in the ministry, he became convinced that some of the Baptist doctrines were not scriptural. He was particularly concerned about the doctrine pertaining to the fate of unbaptized infants. He resigned his position and went into the tanning business. He then became acquainted with Alexander Campbell, the founder of the sect known as the Disciples or Campbellites. This sect held to the basic principles of the ancient gospel. He became a Campbellite minister and moved to the Kirtland area. He had many adherents in his congregation.
Brief Historical Setting
In October 1830 the four missionaries called to preach to the Lamanites set out for the West and Indian territory. They began their work with the Catteraugus tribe near Buffalo, New York. Here they were fairly well received, and after leaving copies of the Book of Mormon they continued their journey west. On the way to Missouri, they stopped near Kirtland, Ohio, and taught the restored gospel to Sidney Rigdon, a Campbellite minister and former religious mentor of Parley P. Pratt. Sidney was the minister to several congregations of Reformed Baptists in the Kirtland area, and had been greatly influenced by the early teachings of Alexander Campbell, a well-known Protestant theologian and minister who was a leader of the Reformed Baptist or Disciple movement. These Protestant “Disciples,” eventually to be called “The Disciples of Christ,” in 1832 were ardently looking for a restoration of the New Testament gospel. When Sidney Rigdon formed a communal Christian society called “The Family” in August of 1830, however, it caused a break between Sidney and Alexander Campbell. The missionaries presented Sidney with a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he studied carefully for about two weeks. At the end of that time he concluded the book was of God, and he was baptized on November 14, 1830, in Mentor, Ohio. In addition to Sidney, more than one hundred of his congregation also believed and were baptized. Sidney’s joining the Church and accepting the Book of Mormon as inspired scripture caused the break with Alexander Campbell to become irreparable.
One of the converts was Frederick G. Williams, a practicing physician in the Kirtland area. Dr. Williams was forty-three years old at the time of his baptism. Also converted was Lyman Wight, a Campbellite and leader of a small group of families in the Kirtland area that were living in a type of united order on a small scale—the so-called “common stock family.” In a short time 130 people were baptized into the Church. Although this preaching to Sydney Rigdon and his followers may seem today like a diversion from the primary objective of this mission to the Indians, it resulted in one of the missionaries’ most significant accomplishments—the conversion of Reverend Rigdon and many of his followers.
The missionaries had been called, after all, to go to the Indian territory, and winter was coming. So about November 1, they left the congenial Kirtland area, and, joined by a fifth companion, the new Campbellite convert, Dr. Frederick G. Williams, they continued westward. Dr. Williams unhesitatingly gave up his profession on hearing the restored gospel and asked if he might join the missionaries. Their missionary labors were temporarily delayed with the arrest of Parley P. Pratt on trumped-up charges. This was an attempt by those who would conspire against them to thwart their missionary successes.
On the way, they proselyted and left copies of the Book of Mormon here and there. Then the severe winter of 1830-31 descended upon them. The Mississippi River was frozen over, and the usual carriage and horse-back travel were impossible. But despite the weather, under great suffering, they walked through snow and ice for 300 miles to the frontier village of Independence, Missouri. Upon arriving at Independence, two of the missionaries took work to help finance their mission while the other three continued a short distance to the Indian lands. Here it appeared they would have their greatest success among the Delaware Indians who lived just across the frontier in what is now the state of Kansas. Although the Indians were at first suspicious of the missionaries because they had been exploited by some previous Christian missionaries, their suspicion was soon alleviated by a moving address delivered by Oliver Cowdery. Chief Anderson of the Delaware tribe was very impressed and asked the missionaries to remain during the winter and teach them the Book of Mormon. Success appeared imminent, but their hopes were dashed when antagonistic Protestant missionaries influenced the Indian agent to evict the Mormon elders from Indian lands.
Meanwhile, turning our attention back to the missionaries in Missouri, since they had little access to the Indians, they preached loud and long to the Missouri settlers. At this point, Parley P. Pratt was selected to return east to get a new supply of copies of the Book of Mormon and to report on the mission’s progress to Joseph Smith.
In order to support themselves in Missouri, the missionaries did such work as was available. They set up a tailor shop in Independence, and some of their patrons later became defenders of the Mormons when persecution raged. One of their customers, however, would later become an infamous enemy of the Church. This was Lilburn W. Boggs. Tradition has it that Peter Whitmer, Jr., made a suit for him on the occasion of his inauguration as Lieutenant Governor of Missouri.
What had this mission to the Lamanites actually accomplished? Although probably no Indians had been baptized, the work of preaching to the Lamanites had nevertheless begun. A large number of converts had been made, including such future leaders as Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge (see D&C 36). The missionaries had also provided the first contact with the Kirtland area and had laid the foundation of the future Zion in Independence, Missouri. Both Kirtland and Independence were to become important centers in the later history of the Church.
In October of 1830, the Lord gave a revelation to two little-known members of the Church, Ezra Thayre and Northrop Sweet, in which he called them to labor and emphasized the imminence of his eventual second coming [D&C 33 -The Eleventh Hour].
Ezra Thayre and Northrop Sweet were residents of Palmyra who were baptized in October 1830 by Parley Pratt before Parley and the other Lamanites missionaries departed at the end of that month. Shortly thereafter, still in October, these two visited the Prophet Joseph in Fayette to ask concerning the will of the Lord for them. In answer, they were instructed to preach the gospel, though it does not appear that they were called to leave Palmyra and their families to do so.
Northrop Sweet did not last long in the Church. He was ordained an elder within eight months after section 33 was received, and he moved to Ohio in compliance with the commandment given in section 37. Soon after arriving there, however, Northrop had false revelations instructing him to become the prophet for the Church. Before the end of 1831 he had left the Church and with others formed “The Pure Church of Christ,” a venture that did not succeed.
Ezra Thayre, on the other hand, remained relatively faithful to the Church until after Joseph Smith’s death. In May of 1831 Joseph will receive a revelation directing Ezra to prepare for a mission to Missouri, “even unto the borders by the Lamanites,” which he will be formally called to undertake a month later on June 7 (see D&C 52:22). Because Ezra delayed so long after receiving this call, he was finally instructed to stay behind in Ohio, and Selah J. Griffin was sent to Missouri in his place. It is likely that Ezra Thayre’s lack of diligence in obeying his call to Missouri grew out of his role in certain problems of the Thompson, Ohio, branch of the Church (see the introductory commentary for D&C sections 54 and 56). Ezra was at the time of his Missouri call already somewhat out of harmony with the Church and in need of repentance for pride, selfishness, and disobedience (see D&C 56:8). Apparently, Ezra Thayre later did repent and participated in the Zion’s Camp march, eventually becoming a prominent member of the Church in Nauvoo. After the death of Joseph Smith, however, Ezra did not support Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve, and eventually joined the Reorganized Church.
- Michael J. Preece