Unlike many Mormons, I can't get on the Joseph Smith veneration bandwagon. But I still deeply appreciate this complex man.
I disagree with the predominant pedagogy that believes showing the humanness of our leaders diminishes them and challenges the faith of the young. Having been an early-morning religious instructor for Mormon teens for four years, I am familiar with the bent of the lesson manuals. I have seen too many examples of young adults discovering "flaws" about the early church leaders and feeling betrayed, as though the whole structure of their belief system were based on "faith promoting myths."
I'm not an advocate of taking a magnifying glass to every mole, but I see the theological counterpart to cosmetic surgery as being at least as damaging. Knowing that Joseph Smith and my contemporary leaders are complicated human beings allows me to feel connected to them. I am all too aware of my own faults. I become more confident that God can use even me to accomplish His work. As the old hymn says, "Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!" (from "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing").
In Joseph Smith's day, the saints referred to each other as "Brother Brigham" or "Sister Eliza." We have gotten more formal over the years and substitute last names instead of firsts, but there is an appealing communalism about using the term "brother" and "sister." This attitude of unity is one "Brother Joseph" taught and drove throughout his life. I find this one of his greatest contributions. His current counterpart, the president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, said in April 1995:
This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as mine in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you: succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (Doctrine & Covenants 81:5)
Highlighted in this month's issue of the Ensign, the official church magazine for Mormon adults and families, is this quote by Joseph Smith from the History of the Church:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.
Thank you, Brother Joseph.