“To ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church”

Section 107 has one of the more complicated histories out of the documents presented in the Doctrine and Covenants.  It is not a single revelation, but rather a few that were compiled together and expanded in significant ways, with the individual portions reflecting their original context and some of the later context of the time in which it was combined into the document we experience today.  It is, as Richard Lyman Bushman put it, “it is best understood as an archeological site, containing layers of organizational forms, each layer created for a purpose at one time and then overlaid by other forms established for other purposes later.”[1]  It is, in many ways, a capstone document in the Doctrine and Covenants meant to provide structure and organization to the Church.  And, in providing some of that structure, Section 107 helped laid the foundation for the institution of the Church to function and thrive in enduring ways past Joseph Smith. There are several sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that effectively functioned as the handbook of the Church at the time they were developed.  As some of the most prominent among them, we have the following: Section 20 (Articles and Covenants) D&C 42 (the Law) D&C 84 (On Priesthood) D&C 86 (On Priesthood) D&C 88 D&C 102 (Minutes of the organization of the High Council of the church of Christ of Latter Day Saints) D&C 107 (On Priesthood) Most of these sections were…

“I the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them”

During an episode of the popular British Sci-Fi show, Doctor Who, the titular character confronts a woman who has engaged in a series of witch hunts in seventeenth century Britain.  The witch hunter explains her view that she is required to: “Kill the witches, defeat Satan.  As King James has written in his new Bible, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  To this, the Doctor responds: “In the Old Testament.  There’s a twist in the sequel: Love thy neighbour.” This conversation plays into a standard caricature of the God of the Hebrew Bible being a fierce, punishing God and the God of the New Testament being a loving, compassionate God.  Yet, that view fails to capture the complexity of God’s personality.  When I was teaching Gospel Doctrine a few years back and we were in the Pentateuch, a brother in the ward made a similar contrast to the Doctor, stating that the Law of Moses was all about rules and punishment, while the Christian religion was all about love.  To make his point, he contrasted the general Law of Moses with Jesus’s statement that: “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[1]  Afterwards,…

Are We Going to Be Able to Buy the Kirtland Temple?

I’ve always been fascinated with sacred real estate disputes, and we certainly have our own. The most salient–the American “Temple Mount”–is probably the Temple Lot in Independence, the story of which makes for fascinating reading: a geographically precise, small plot of land is prophesied by Joseph Smith as the location of a future temple. After his death various branches legally fight over ownership. The ones who end up winning the prize are a small, numerically marginal branch known as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot, AKA Hedrickites), after forming an alliance of convenience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that includes gathering some of the few first-hand accounts from Joseph Smith’s living wives.  While one historically prominent exegetical strand among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds that D&C 57 should be interpreted as indicating that we will some day return to Independence and build the temple at the Temple Lot site now occupied by the Hedrickites, there are other ways to read that scripture given the historical context; I’m personally less inclined to the traditional interpretation, but I might be wrong and would not be surprised if it does end up happening the way Brigham Young thought it would. Whatever the case with the Temple Lot, it looks like the Hedrickites are comfortably ensconced there, have no plans to sell any time…

Waiting For Saints 3

Three years ago this month, Saints, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846 was published.  Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 followed about a year-and-a-half later in February 2020.  If later volumes had followed the same cadence for releases, we’d have seen Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 right around now and Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear, 1955-The Recent Past in early 2023.[1]  I went to check on that recently and noticed that the Saints FAQ on the official site of the history series now indicates that: “Saints, Volume 2 was released in February 2020. Volumes 3 and 4 will follow at roughly the pace of one volume every 2 years.”[2]  So, we still have about six months to go before we see Volume 3 (sigh) and it will likely be at least early 2024 before we see Volume 4.  I’m not surprised that the volumes are taking longer than I had hoped they would to come out—they are complex undertakings and the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on project timelines.  I have been favorably impressed with the volumes out so far, however, and Volume 3 covers what may be my favorite time period of Church history, which is why I’m anxious to see it come out. While I wait for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 to come out early next year, I figured I’d take some time to discuss why…

Terryl Givens on Eugene England

In general, the people who are in a position to be most influential in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been official Church leaders.  That’s not always the case, however, since there are a number of members of the Church who have proven influential and important in different ways—Truman Madsen, Hugh Nibley, Leonard Arrington, and Eugene England to name a few.  Among these, England was a notable figure in the rise of Mormon Studies due to his role in founding Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, founding The Association for Mormon Letters, participating in founding the first official university Mormon studies program, and for his many essays exploring Latter-day Saint culture, belief, and life.  At times, however, his efforts proved controversial and brought the ire of Church leaders.  Terryl Givens recently discussed the life and legacy of Eugene England with Kurt Manwaring in an interview about his new biography, “Stretching the Heavens: The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism” (University of North Carolina Press, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, with excerpts and some discussion.  For those who want to read the full interview, follow the link here. Eugene England is shown as a flawed figure by Givens, functioning both as a “unrealized ideal” and a “cautionary tale”.  As stated in the interview: Many thousands of Latter-day Saints—and Christians generally—struggle with the tensions between personal discipleship and institutional…

“The constitution of this Land”

The attitude of Latter-day Saints towards the United States government has historically been paradoxical.  As Dale Morgan wrote: “The Mormons had a profound respect for government and governmental forms, but disrespect for and outright distrust of ‘the damned rascals who administer the government.’”[1]  Church leaders have encouraged beliefs that inculcate support for governments, yet we also have a history of conflict with the government in the US.  In addition, there are some Mormon doctrines that deemphasize the need for government that are held in tension with pro-government beliefs.  This tension was manifested in nineteenth century Utah’s conflicts with the United States.  It has also surfaced more recently in the worldview of individuals such as Ezra Taft Benson and Cliven Bundy.  At its core, this paradox is rooted in the conflict born of a people who believe that the Constitution of the United States of America is inspired of God suffering from intolerance and corruption in the United States of America. The Prophet Joseph Smith believed that governmental forms should be respected, especially the Constitution of the United States of America.  An 1835 summary of belief that was included in the Doctrine of Covenants (Section 134) outlined the basic attitude of Latter-day Saints towards governments by stating that: “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments.”[2]  In…

“Concerning the building of mine house”

The temples of the early Latter Day Saint movement were a place where several strands of Joseph Smith’s theology and doctrine were braided together.  In the summer of 1833 (in the revelations we are studying this week for “Come, Follow Me”), we can see that braiding happening.  Referencing some major topics we’ve already discussed this year, we can see the idea of beholding the face of God, an endowment of power from on high, preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus the Christ, the Zion project, and some practical functions of the temples (in connection with building Zion).  Each of these had become a component of how the House of the Lord in Kirtland and Zion were meant to operate. The endowment of power from on high was one area of particular concern to the early Saints.  They had been promised in early 1831 that when they relocated to Kirtland, Ohio, they would be blessed with the law and an endowment of power akin to the one that the early Christians received on the day of Pentecost.[1]  The law was given in a series of revelations that spring, but the endowment of power proved more elusive.  Ordination to the high priesthood at a conference in 1831 and the meetings of the School of the Prophets functioned as earlier endowments of power, but the Saints continued to look forward to the construction of the House of the Lord as a place…

Archeology, Ceramics, and the Smith Family in Tunbridge

In addition to written records, people leave behind traces of their material lives that can tell us much about who they were.  In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Mark Staker (a Master Curator for the Church History Department’s Historic Sites Division) discussed some of the research he has been doing on the place Joseph Smith’s parents lived early in their marriage (which he also discussed in the recently-published Joseph and Lucy Smith’s Tunbridge Farm: An Archaology and Landscape Study [John Whitmer Historical Association, 2021]).  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion), but if you want to read the full interview, it is available here. Mark Staker explained a bit about the importance of material history.  As stated in the interview: I’ve long been drawn to looking at material aspects of history. Unlike people’s recollections, their journals, or other aspects of history filtered through individuals, material culture is not subject to the failures of memory, a desire to make oneself look good, or any other political, religious, or interpretive agenda. People did not plan carefully on what kind of data they would leave in their privy. I’m reminded of a dermatologist who presented in one of my medical anthropology classes who said he liked treating the skin because you could see the evidence in front of you. The things we leave behind tell stories about how we lived that are important…

“That you may understand and know”

“The world is changed. … Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. … And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.  History became legend.  Legend became myth.  And for two and a half thousand years, the [true Gospel] passed out of all knowledge.  Until, when chance came, it ensnared another bearer.” While not the same, the overall character of the opening monologue for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is compatible with the Latter-day Saint view of the Great Apostasy.  It was, after all, a time of loss and change.  As B. H. Roberts summarized: “The time came when through a combination of circumstances—through the bitter and relentless persecutions which came upon the early Christians, both from the heathens and from the Jews, by which persecution, continuing through three long centuries, the servants of God were slain,” leading to a time when individuals did “engraft upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ heathen notions of God, and accepted part of the heathen mythology and blended this with fragments of Christian truth still held by them, until the plain and simple Gospel, as delivered to the people by Jesus and the Apostles, lost all semblance of its former self.”[1]  As a result, “nothing remained but fragments of the gospel; here a doctrine and there a principle, like single stones fallen and rolled away from the ruined wall; but no one able to tell…

“A word of wisdom for the benefit of the Saints”

One of the paradoxes about the Word of Wisdom is that the name (drawn from the opening line of the text from the 27 February 1833 revelation) indicates that it is good advice while it’s treated as a commandment in the Church today.  I’ve discussed this in detail in the past, so I’ll leave the full subject to that treatment as well as the historians of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but the short version is that it’s not clear when the revelation became a commandment for members of the Church.  It may have been intended as a commandment all along, it may have been accepted as a commandment by Church membership in general conference in the past, or it may have become a commandment at the time it began to be enforced as part of temple recommend interviews. The interesting part of the history is that all three of these versions of commandment-ification are rooted in the others.  The Word of Wisdom began to be enforced during the early 20th century because Church leaders believed that it had become a commandment in the time of President Brigham Young, mostly pointing to a vote at a conference in 1851.[1]  That vote was used to legitimize the belief that the Word of Wisdom had been declared to be in force as a commandment to Latter-day Saints as it became a requirement for temple recommends in the early 20th century.  Yet, when…

Is the Church Replacing Itself in the United States? Population Momentum and its Capacity to Hide Decline

The following is Stephen Cranny’s fourth guest post here at Times & Seasons. Stephen Cranney is a Washington DC-based data scientist and Non-Resident Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion. He has produced over 20 peer-reviewed articles and six children According to conventional wisdom, the Church in the United States and other developed  countries can either be described as in a state of stasis or slow, steady growth. I have no reason to doubt this general consensus, and it appears to be supported by findings by Matt Martinich and others that the Church is consistently adding units in the United States.[1] As I’ve noted elsewhere,[2] raw on-the-rolls membership is not the best indicator of Church growth for a variety of reasons, but increases in units is probably a good indicator of substantive growth, and by these measures the Church appears to be doing fine. However, this superficial reading can be misleading, as it does not take into account “age structure effects” which may hide very real declines in Church growth that are not readily apparent from a surface reading of the numbers. Age structure effects is a very technical subject, but to summarize:  the Church in the US may be forming new wards, registering more members on its rolls, and building more temples to meet increasing demand while actually having undergone changes, such as lower birth rates and a net outflow of members, that will lead to the…

Historical Mindset for Mormons, 101

While studying in a scientific field, two major ideas were drilled into me that have been fairly helpful in interpreting history.  First is the belief that nothing can ever truly be proved, only that things can be disproved.  If something goes a long time without being disproved, then it is likely (though not certainly) to be an accurate understanding of how something works.  Second is the idea of backing things up with data.  For biological studies, those data often looks like measured levels of chemicals in a sample or cell counts, but in history, data is mostly based around finding evaluating sources.  Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library, recently published a primer on how to approach stories from Latter-day Saint History with the historical method as Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths, and sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview to discuss some of the core concepts presented there.  What follows on this page is a co-post—a short post with excerpts and some discussion—but the full interview is available here. One of the key points that Erekson discussed was the danger of sharing church history stories before they’ve been examined.  As stated in the interview: I’ll start by saying that I don’t think inaccurate stories can be truly “faith-promoting.” But it depends on what you assume “faith” to be. If faith is just some gooey abstract thing, then, sure you might try to promote it…

“This is the light of Christ“

As one of Joseph Smith’s largest revelations, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88 (or, as Joseph Smith called it, “the Olieve leaf which we have plucked from the tree of Paradise”) has a lot of different talking points.  As historian Richard Lyman Bushman wrote: “Nothing in nineteenth-century literature resembles it.  … The ‘Olive Leaf’ runs from the cosmological to the practical, from a description of angels blowing their trumpets to instructions for starting a school.  Yet the pieces blend together into a cohesive compound of cosmology and eschatology united by the attempt to link the quotidian world of the now to the world beyond.”[1]  The majority of this Olive Leaf revelation was recorded on 27-28 December 1832, with the end section being recorded as a separate revelation on 3 January 1833 that became so closely associated with the December revelation that they were eventually combined into one document.  Among the topics that moved beyond the mundane world of the now is a metaphysical discussion towards the beginning of the December revelation about Jesus the Christ and light. This portion that discusses Jesus and light has given rise to the idea of an interesting entity in Latter-day Saint through—the light of Christ or Spirit of Christ.  The revelation states that: “I now send upon you another comfortor, even upon you my friends; that it may abide in your hearts, even the holy spirit of promise.  … This comfortor is the promise which I give unto…

So You Want to Talk About Polygamy?

I’ve long had an interest in understanding how and why my ancestors chose to practice polygamy.  During my time at Utah State University, I spent most of my spare time reading Mormon Studies materials and went on a polygamy binge at one point.  While reading Kathryn Daynes’s More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1890 during some downtime in the laboratory, a visiting biologist from Pakistan saw what I was reading and asked if I was preparing to take a second wife.  I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, so explained that I was not and tried to steer him away from his joking about picking up a second wife himself while in Utah. While it’s perhaps understandable that someone who was from the opposite side of the world and a culture that does nominally accept polygamy would have some misunderstandings, it seems like many Latter-day Saints also have little grasp of polygamy beyond that it happened in the Church in the past and struggle with what they do know (myself included for most of my life).  For example, I had a mission companions who swore up and down that it was only practiced to support widows and the poor, but the husbands never had children with the plural wives (as a descendant of a couple second wives, I’m living proof that he was wrong).  Another mission companion was visibly shaken for days after an investigator talked…

Joseph F. Merrill—Science, Religion, and Innovation

Joseph F. Merrill is an apostle who has largely been forgotten but who, nevertheless, left a major impact on the Church that remains a part of its DNA to this day.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down for an interview with Merrill’s biographer, Casey Griffiths, to discuss his life and impact.  It’s an interesting discussion and can be viewed in full here.  What follows below is a co-post, a shorter discussion with excerpts from the full interview.  Before Kurt shared the interview with me, I was only dimly aware of Merrill’s impact, mostly encountering him as the mission president of Gordon B. Hinckley or one of the scientist-apostles that Joseph Fielding Smith outlived before publishing Man, His Origin and Destiny.  Reading the interview was a good opportunity to learn more about his impact in developing seminary, institutes, and religious education at Church universities. In the interview Casey Griffiths explained some about why Joseph Merrill isn’t well-known by Church members today, especially compared to contemporaries like James E. Talmage, B. H. Roberts, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. He is not well known in the Church today for several reasons. Probably most prominent is that he didn’t leave behind a lot of public writings. Well known leaders from that time (who weren’t Church presidents) usually left behind a lot of literature. James E. Talmage, for instance, is remembered because he wrote Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, and other seminal works. Joseph…

“These two Priesthoods”

Words can be a bit slippery, particularly when we use them in different ways over time.  Take, for example, the use of the word “ordinance” in the Church.  In its most basic sense, an ordinance is an authoritative order; a decree or a piece of legislation (think of a city ordinance).  It seems very possible that many of the time when the word occurs in the Doctrine and Covenants, the word is used in this manner, referring to the laws or decrees of God.  On other occasions, the term may be used as an appointment or commission (in what is now an archaic use of the word).  In the Church today, however, it is generally used to refer to religious rites like baptism, confirmation, endowment, etc.  Hence, it becomes tricky when interpreting statements like the one in the important 22-23 September 1832 revelation (now Doctrine and Covenants, Section 84) that “in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest and without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest,” whether ordinances refers to the laws of the Gospel, an appointment as a result of priesthood ordination, or the sacred rites of the Gospel.[1]  Gratefully, at least there isn’t much confusion about whether ordnances is the intended use in the Church when the term ordinance is used. Priesthood is another word that is a bit difficult to pin down.  While we know it generally refers to…

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign has been an area of interest for several years now (particularly since the release of the Council of Fifty minutes), and Spencer W. McBride’s recently-published Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassins, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2021) is the latest in scholarship to be published on the subject.  McBride recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview where he offered some of his insights.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a short version with excerpts and some discussion), but the original interview can be found here for your reading pleasure. When asked what catalyzed writing the book, McBride talked about his work with the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  He noted that: “I do not think that it was in Joseph Smith’s nature to be a political person. What these documents made clear is that circumstances and a desperation to protect the civil rights of Latter-day Saints forced him to engage in politics, and that engagement culminated in his presidential run.”  He found the story of how that happened fascinating and “felt that the story of Smith’s campaign illuminates the plight of religious minorities in United States history and stands as a critique to celebratory narratives of American religious freedom.”  This book gave him a chance to explore both aspects. In the interview, Spencer McBride explored some of the circumstances that led Smith to desperation about…

“This is Elias”

In both the Vision studied recently (D&C 76) and the first revelation studied this week (D&C 77) there is a mysterious figure referenced as Elias.  Throughout the remainder of his ministry, Joseph Smith would use this name-title to refer to individuals who served as forerunners with preparatory or restorative responsibilities.  But, at times, it also seemed as though he had a specific individual in mind, possibly drawing on references to the name Elias used in the King James Version of the New Testament.  Who was this person?  How did Joseph Smith understand his role? The revelation now known as D&C 77 was recorded in March 1832.  As Joseph Smith worked on his New Translation of the New Testament, he came to the Revelation of St. John the Divine and dictated a series of questions and answers to explain some of the symbolism in that book.  On two occasions, the text refers to Elias.  In answering the question, “What are we to understand by the angels ascending from the east Rev 7. Chap. & 2 verse?”, the text responds: “We are to understand that the angel ascended from the east is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the tweleve tribes of Israel … this is the Elias which was to come to gether to gether the tribes of Israel and restore all things.”[1]  In answering the question, “What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John as mentioned in the 10th. Chapt. of Rev“,…