Thursday, July 2, 2009

He Said: Symonds Ryder An Orthographically Challenged ExMo

During the Ohio years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Symonds Ryder was one of several converts made in Hiram, Ohio in 1831. He was the presiding elder or overseer of the Disciples of Christ Church (Campbellite) in that area before and after his membership in the church. He along with one of his closest friends Ezra Booth and their families were baptized and remained members of the church for a few short months in 1831. Latter-day Saints say he left the church because of a misspelling in his name Simonds Ryder [sic] (See D&C 52:37). As BiV points out in her blog many LDS church historians and scholars attribute this to his leaving the church.

Guy L. Dorius citing the History of the Church says of his leaving the church:

He was baptized that same month, but his enthusiasm was short-lived. He soon received a ministerial call signed by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that stated that it had been given them by the Spirit and that it was the Lord’s will he be called to preach the gospel. In both the informal letter he received and in the official commission to preach, his last name was misspelled Rider, instead of Ryder. He left the Church, claiming that if the “ ‘Spirit’ through which he had been called to preach could err in the matter of spelling his name, it might have erred in calling him to the ministry as well; or, in other words, he was led to doubt if he were called at all by the Spirit of God, because of the [scribal] error in the spelling of his name!” 8
It is interesting to note that at his funeral A.S. Hayden spelled his name Symonds Ryder. In the 1833 Book of Commandments his name is spelled Simonds only with no last name. In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants it is spelled Simonds Rider. In the 1981 (current edition) his name is spelled Simonds Ryder.

What is even more fascinating is that I am sure his family knew how to spell the man's name as did his parishioners over whom he ministered for fifty years. At no point in the various editions of the scriptures have the Mormon scholars or leaders felt to correct the name if that indeed was the reason he left the church.

It would be about as ridiculous as when I first joined the church and was assigned to home teach a man that joined the church and went inactive over the stake president calling him to bear his testimony during stake conference. When I first went to the man's home I asked him why he no longer attended church. He said that he was offended by the stake president to whom he told that he was shy and never wanted to speak in a large public gathering on at least a few occasions. The stake president laughed whenever he said that and told him not to worry he would get over it. One day he called him impromptu out of the audience and asked him to share his testimony which the man did. The man said he walked out of the stake conference and never returned to church since the stake president disrespected him. I knew the stake president to be a very kind man so I went to see him and told him the story. I asked him to go apologize to the man who said if he did he would return to church. To my surprise the stake president said that wasn't a good enough reason to leave the church and he was prompted by the spirit to call on the man. The man was just using that as an excuse and he should just get over it and come back. He told me to go to the man and tell him he should come back. Needless to say I was between a rock and a hard place since neither man felt that what they had done was morally wrong. The man remained inactive.

I find it incredulous that a man would leave the church over something as stupid as a misspelling of his name but I have seen people leave for dumber reasons than that. You would think after all the printings of the scriptures that we could get Symonds Ryder's name spelled correctly. You would also think that he would suck it up and stay with the church since it was just that a small inconsequential matter.

In Ryder's mind he joined the church on the basis of modern day revelation or that the Spirit speaks to man today. He really didn't realize that the Spirit just puts impressions in the mind of the prophet. The prophet just related the revelation which was recorded. If they had over a hundred years of record keeping like today the recorder or scribe might have checked with the recipient of the blessing like they do today and ask if everything is spelled right. It is easy to add an i where a y is since they both sound the same in English. If you are a hard liner like Ryder was you might doubt the power of the revelation if it is recorded incorrectly.

Speaking to patriarchs in the LDS Church I can understand this as many people even today question the lineage when they declare something like you are the seed of Abraham through Joseph. Since Joseph had two sons Ephraim and Manassah and Ephraim is the royal line he needs to be very precise. A couple of patriarchs told me that they forgot to say Ephraim a few times and went back later and fixed it or they misspelled the person's name on the patriarchal blessing even though the form had the correct spelling that is why the person is given a copy before it is submitted and asked to check it. It is later sent in to the church in Salt Lake City in case you lose it.

I think Symonds Ryder had a bigger problem. His downfall was pride and rationalization. He used the misspelling as a reason not to take a mission that was assigned. If he had gone on his mission he might have had a different trajectory in his life. His buddy Ezra Booth went on a mission but he thought it was a tough mission and got his buddy back home to begin persecuting the Saints particularly the Prophet whom Ryder was mad at.

Without naming names we tell of Ryder's turning on the prophet over his doubting his revelatory power to our children. In the Primary 5 lesson manual on the Doctrine and Covenants (1997) we read about both Booth and Ryder:

Ezra Booth joined the Church in 1831 after seeing the Prophet heal Elsa Johnson’s arm (see lesson 19). Several months later he was called on a mission to Missouri. He was angry because he had to walk the entire journey and because missionary life was not what he had expected. He was disappointed because he did not see any more miracles like the healing of Elsa Johnson. He began to think and say bad things about the leaders of the Church. Because of his improper behavior during his mission, Ezra Booth was excommunicated when he returned to Ohio. This meant that he was no longer a member of the Church. Instead of repenting, Booth began writing letters to a local newspaper, telling lies about Joseph Smith and the Church. These letters influenced many people in Ohio to become suspicious of Church members and to persecute them.

One winter night a group of men who believed Ezra Booth’s letters got drunk and attacked the homes of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in Hiram, Ohio. Joseph had been up late caring for his adopted son, who had the measles, and had just fallen asleep when the angry mob broke into the house. The men dragged Joseph outside, swearing and threatening to kill him. They choked him, tore off his clothes, and tried to push a paddle of hot tar and a bottle of acid into his mouth. The bottle of acid broke, chipping one of Joseph’s teeth and causing him to speak with a whistle for the rest of his life. The men in the mob also dragged Sidney Rigdon from his home. When Joseph saw Sidney lying on the ground, he thought Sidney was dead. The mob decided not to kill Joseph, but they scratched him severely, spread hot tar all over his body, and covered him with feathers.

The ring leader of the group was according to Joseph Smith none other than Symonds Ryder. A supposedly religious man who certainly didn't turn the other cheek over a supposed slight. It just proved that if a guy is on the road to apostasy he will rationalize his bad behaviors.


  1. Typical alpha male behavior. Lets put the brother into his place by requiring him to do something that he explicitly did not want to do.

    That's not how you treat another adult. It is rude and domineering.

    But somehow it's supposed to be OK because the spirit said so. I submit that the spirit is not about humiliating and domineering our fellow men.

    The spirit is no license for disrespect. Whatever prompted the stake president to behave that way, it was not from god.

    As Lord Acton observed, power tends to corrupt. The stake president allowed his power to corrupt himself. His self-righteousness shields him from feeling guilty, which is not a positive character trait either.

    Mormonism would be a better place if we had more respect for other adults.

  2. Hellmut, you are the most relentlessly negative commenter I've ever seen. You're like a troll that sticks around ;)

  3. I wouldn't question the validity of a revelation because of a misspelling. God's revelations come through fallible men. I would question a revelation from a prophet, because I have a duty to go to the Lord, and seek confirmation for myself.

    Trust not in the arm of flesh. Even if the arm of flesh is a prophet. Follow the Spirit, and you'll never be led astray.

    As far as the stake president goes, I think he missed an opportunity to reach out to a brother. I think you should always try to see things from the other persons perspective, even if you think the other person is an idiot.

    Pride caused that man to leave the Church, but it wasn't his pride alone.

  4. Thanks, Ben. Actually, I consider it a positive contribution to remind people in power that they treat other adults with respect and consideration.

  5. Anyone who has done genealogical research in the original records of that period can attest to the fact that spelling was not standardized. I have one ancestor whose last name has been spelled McCaleb, McKillip and McAlep.

  6. The Lord doesn't give revelations in writing. If anything, it's more or less verbal, or in the form of ideas and concepts, to the person receiving it. Then the receiver or a scribe has to write it down. Therefore the spelling is all on the receiver/scribe, not on the Lord.

    In those cases where the revelation is not verbal, or not conveyed with words but with ideas, the receiver first has to translate the ideas into words before he can even write or dictate. So not only the spelling, but the word choice can be the product of the person receiving the revelation and not necessarily the Lord's exact words.

    That said, the Lord is also capable of giving the exact words to the person receiving the revelation, so that the receiver is taking dictation, or repeating the exact words to the scribe.

    It's my understanding that Joseph Smith's revelations could be either way, translating ideas into English, or taking exact dictation from the Lord.

  7. regardless of the error or spelling issue , pride took over Ryder and he was just trying to find an excuse not to go........regarding the Stake president, most people will feel uneasy or not prepared to such a task... but to blame somebody else for our own shortcomings, or our own inactivity , it is just plain ridiculous,,,yes we all are different, and we respond different , but we grow when we face adversity and resolve our own problems...( shyness its personal ) and there is way or activities to overcome it.. in some people requires time or an experience,, but this fellow did not want to grow in any can you grow just sitting and not participating or contributing to the life of others?.. I dont think the stake president acted with the sole intention of this fellow personal destruction.. he chose to leave and get offended, and remain offended...................sorry that is life sometimes