The Mormon Prophet Attempts to Join the Methodists [Excerpts]
In June 1828 Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, joined the Methodist Church [probationary class] in Harmony, Pennsylvania. This was a strange thing for this prophet of a new religion to do, and seriously challenges the story he put out ten years later about the origin of his work.
That later story claims that in 1820 Joseph Smith had seen two glorious personages, identified as the Father and the Son, and was informed that the creeds of all the "sects," or various denominations, "were an abomination" and he was twice forbidden to join any of them.
In retelling this same tale to Alexander Neibaur on May 24, 1844, Joseph specifically singled out the Methodist Church as being unworthy of his membership. Mr. Neibaur's diary recorded the divine warning as related by Joseph: "Mr. Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church - No - they are not my People. They have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one." (quoted in The Improvement Era, April 1970, p.12).
Perhaps the death of his first-born son on June 15, 1828 induced him to seek membership in the church his wife had belonged to since she was seven years old. Joseph had told his neighbor, Joshua McKune, that "his (Smith's) first born child was to translate the characters and hieroglyphics upon the plates, into our language, at the age of three years." (The Susquehanna Register, May 1, 1834, p.1). When this child died at birth instead, and his wife's life also hung in danger, Smith may have considered entirely abandoning his project of writing a book and decided to join the Methodist Church. At least Martin Harris later told Rev. Ezra Booth that when he went to Pennsylvania to see Joseph about the translation that "Joseph had given it up on account of the opposition of his wife and others," and Martin "told Joseph, 'I have not come down here for nothing, we will go on with it.' " (The Story of the Mormons, by William Alexander Linn, New York: Macmillan Co. 1902, p.36).
The young prophet's roll as a Methodist member did not last very long, however - only three days according to statements made by his wife's cousins, Joseph and Hiel Lewis. In their local newspaper at Amboy, Illinois they told of their earlier years with Joseph Smith in Pennsylvania and of his uniting with their Methodist class:
He presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, in the absence of some of the official members. (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, April 30, 1879, p.1).
Like so many of the early Methodist records, the early class books of the Harmony (now Lanesboro) Church are lost, so we will never know for certain whether Joseph Smith remained a member for only three days or six months. However, there was never any dispute that he had become a member, and by this one act he undercut the story he later put forth that God in a special vision had instructed him specifically not to join the Methodist Church.