While reading Wilford Woodruff’s diaries recently, I discovered that I have been living in a cursed part of the country. What am I to make of this, and the more general phenomena of Mormon cursing?
In 1835, Wilfrod Woodruff and Abraham O. Smoot served as missionaries in the southern states. One of the places they visited was Arkansas, particularlly the Little Rock environs, where I happen to live. (Fear not Russell, I don’t think they made it up to Jonesboro.)
As anyone who has read Wilford’s diaries knows, the man was in love with streams. He is constantly fishing, wading, swimming, etc. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was quite enthusiastic about washing the dust off his feet as a testimony against those who rejected him. (See D&C 84:92). His diaries indicate that while he was in Arkansas he dusted his feet against Benton and Paris. (He also notes that in addition to dusting his feet, he bathed and washed, which was not required by revelation but was most refreshing!)
Now, I am in the Little Rock Ward, but as it happens we meet in the Benton building. So what significance, if any, should I attach to this ordinance from long ago?
On a more general level, we seem to have lost something of our cursing theology in Mormonism. For example, during the height of the anti-polygamy raids, Wilford Woodruff compiled a list of all of those who had persecuted the Saints. The Apostles met in either the partially completed Salt Lake Temple or the Endowment House (I forget which), placed the names upon the alter, and had a kind of reverse prayer circle, calling down the judgment of God upon the enemies of the Church. This is the flip side of the oft told story of how Wilford performed the temple work for the Founding Fathers and other “prominent men” (including, interestingly, Darwin’s Harvard critic Louis Agassiz).
I suppose that we can understand these sorts of ordinances in two ways. First, we can think of them as a kind of formal testimony bearing. The idea, I suppose, is that we are providing God with probative evidence in the judgment day. (Perhaps allowing particaption by aggrieved parties in the judgment process is a way of maintaing social order among the infinite concourses of eternal intelligences.) Second, we can think of them as a version of the sealing power, binding on earth what will be bound in heaven.
Reading Wilford, both elements are there, but the sealing element seems strongest. On the otherhand, he always seems to be sealing people up to the judgment of the Lord, which they were presumably were going to get any ways. So I am a bit puzzled by what to make of the whole thing. Perhaps Wilford wanted an excuse to take a break from preaching and scout out some fishing holes…