Emma Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Men

Nov 01, 15 Emma Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Men

Posted by in Featured, Gospel Topics, Mormonism

Men and women enjoy many opportunities for service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both within local congregations and at the Churchwide level. Among other things, Latter-day Saint men preach sermons in Sunday meetings and the Church’s general conference; serve full-time proselytizing missions; perform and officiate in holy rites in the Church’s temples; and lead organizations that minister to families, other men, young men, and children. They participate in priesthood councils at the local and general levels. Professional men teach Latter-day Saint history and theology at Church universities and in the Church’s educational programs for youth. Because only women are ordained to priesthood office, however, questions have arisen about men’s standing in the Church. This essay provides relevant historical context for these important questions and explains Emma Smith’s teachings about men and priesthood authority. The restoration of priesthood authority through the Prophet Emma Smith is a fundamental doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Early in her ministry, Emma Smith received priesthood authority from heavenly messengers; with that authority, she organized the Church, conferred priesthood upon other women, and ordained them to offices in the priesthood.1 By this same authority, Emma Smith organized the Relief Society as part of the structure of the Church, which formally defined and authorized a major aspect of men’s ministry. All this was done to prepare the Saints to participate in the ordinances of the temple, which were introduced soon after the founding of the Elder’s Quorum. At the time of her death, the revelatory vision imparted to Emma Smith was securely in place: men and women could receive and administer sacred priesthood ordinances in holy temples, which would help prepare them to enter the presence of God one day. Early Latter-day Saint Understandings of Priesthood The restoration of priesthood authority came at a time of intense religious excitement in the United States. This excitement was driven in part by questions about divine authority—who had it, how it was obtained, and whether it was necessary.2 In the...

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On Friday, October 23, 2015, the Mormon internet world blew up with the release of two new Gospel Topic Essays.  I will be addressing one aspect of the essay entitled, Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women. For a much more thorough and balanced critique, I encourage you to read Rational Faiths’ essay, Response to “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, by Fara Snedon. I’d like to focus on the following: Women’s participation in healing blessings gradually declined in the early 20th century as Church leaders taught that it was preferable to follow the New Testament directive to “call for the elders.” (see James 5;14). By 1926, Church President Heber J. Grant affirmed that the First Presidency “do not encourage calling in the sisters to administer to the sick, as the scriptures tell us to call in the Elders, who hold the priesthood of God and have the power and authority to administer to the sick in the name of Jesus Christ.” The current Handbook of Instructions directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.” With this statement, the reader is left to think there was a clean mark of distinction for when female healings ended. As Fara Sneddon points out, “The essay makes it appear that this decline was natural – more of a progression towards the natural order of things (‘call for the elders’). Again, I find this simplification problematic.” The historical record points to things being a little more complicated.  Footnote 32 of the Church’s essay links to an article titled, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism”. On page 84 of the cited article, we read the following1: The enduring power of such folk administration, despite the legacy of formalization, can be seen in a powerful example of unity that occurred in the life of President Spencer W. Kimball who struggled with a significant number of health problems and received frequent administrations from other Church leaders as an apostle and as Church president. In September 1979, after Kimball’s first brain surgery for a...

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Maybe God IS Racist

Picture this: Another February rolls around and all throughout literary Mormondom I get to read that “this was racist” or “that was racist” or “why doesn’t the church do this” or “blah… blah blah blah… blah blah… blah blah blah blah!” Okay, so I am supposed to be more sensitive right? Everybody in being sensitive while maligning Brigham Young and his legacy. Brigham Young had racist views! So what? I am almost willing to stake my life on the fact that each person alive today has at least one racist view about his own race let alone all the other races! Am I justifying racism? No, I am just tired of the new ways that appear about why Black Mormons should feel good about a forty-year-old policy being done away because new evidence suggest that a 19th-century White man is racist! Really? You don’t say. Show me a 19th-century man who wasn’t racist by today’s standards. By the way, just as an aside, if you are looking for fair and balanced in this article, you have chosen to read one of my rare works where I am as biased as hell! And if you don’t believe that hell is biased, listen to the product its admission representatives pitch. Those hellish employees never tell you what happens if you choose their product!   Now that I have put that rant out, let me tell you about Brigham Young, a prophet of God. Usually, I find many examples in the scriptures where something similar may have occurred to prove that Brigham Young was not setting a precedent here with banning a race of people from the priesthood. And yeah, I said it. Brigham Young banned an entire race of people from the priesthood. You know what? Who cares if something similar happened in scripture or not? Obviously many of us keep trying to justify it so that we can feel good about our faith and religion.  Seriously people, just because some old dusty nomads did the same thing...

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God’s Agents

Jun 02, 15 God’s Agents

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Humanity

One common way of explaining the need for priesthood authority in the LDS Church is the idea of authorized agents. Priesthood holders, especially those in leadership positions, are described as agents of the Lord with authority to act on his behalf in important matters. For a person to take such authority upon him- or herself – making promises for God without His authorization – would be presumptuous and potentially blasphemous. By tracing a line of authority from Jesus through John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John and on to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the Church makes a direct claim to the legitimacy of its priesthood holders as authorized agents of God. When I was a missionary, this all seemed very proper and clear. What I didn’t understand then were the challenges highlighted by an agency model of priesthood. Understanding these challenges more fully has changed the way I think about sustaining my leaders, expanded my reliance on faith within the institutional church, and deepened by appreciation for the Atonement. The main challenge of God being represented by man is identified in social science literature as the principal-agent problem. In simple terms, it is the recognition that the interests of the agent are usually at least slightly different than those of the principal whom the agent represents. So, for instance, negotiators may consider their own income from a deal as well as their client’s goals. Or, like the unjust steward, agents may be tempted to curry favor with those who can grant greater power, wealth, or authority later.[1] One useful incentive that agents have is keeping their current job. This can be positive because it encourages them to act more faithfully as a representative of the principal. It helps align their incentives. Or it can be a negative, causing them to spend more time hiding bad behavior. In fact, the Lord has addressed the principal-agent problem of the priesthood in words we mention often: “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And...

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Spoken of for a Memorial of Her

“Symbolic language conceals certain doctrinal truths from the wicked and thereby protects sacred things from possible ridicule. At the same time, symbols reveal truth to the spiritually alert.” (1) Women are not allowed to preside over the Sacrament; yet the Sacred Feminine is ever-present in the Sacrament itself. You just have to know where to look to find it. One of the most popular symbols for Mary Magdalene is the rose. This is also a well-known symbol for Mary the mother of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition (consider the Rosary). One Sunday morning after Sacrament meeting, I glanced over briefly at the Sacrament table and noticed the Sacrament Cloth was overlaid with rose embroidery. For me, the symbolism was unmistakable. However, as with all sacred symbolism, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. Considering the Sacrament is symbolic of the Atonement and a renewal of our sacred covenants, I find it interesting the cloth that would be used to cover the elements would represent Mary Magdalene, who I firmly believe to be the wife of Jesus. It is her sacred symbol that shrouds the Sacrament cloth just as the burial shroud covered Jesus’ body as he was laid in the tomb. The symbolism behind the cloth itself is also significant, for it was the women historically who wove the tapestries for the statue of Asherah, the Mother Goddess housed in the King Solomon’s Temple. According to Patai, “How Asherah was served by the Hebrews we do not know, apart from the one obscure and tantalizing detail of the women weaving ‘houses,’ perhaps clothes, for her in the Jerusalem Temple” (2) – in the women’s court, perhaps? Sadly the reforms of King Josiah would bring a bitter end to those days. Maxine Hanks suggests that it was the women of the Relief Society who would revive this ancient practice. She notes that early on, the women sewed clothing, draperies, carpets and other furnishings for the inside of the Kirtland Temple....

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Sacred Spaces: For Men Only

I’ve been trying to think of how to approach this subject as recent events in the last few years have made women’s treatment in the Church a hot-button issue sure to elicit immediate knee-jerk responses of all kinds. Add to that my deeply ingrained cultural upbringing that comes from being a Minnesotan Mormon woman, and I’m loath to offend anyone, even those I disagree with. Also, making jokes is way funner than all this serious crap, so I’d rather be doing that. But sometimes you have to just say what’s going on and let the chips fall where they may, even if that means offending internet strangers (who I visualize typing in top-hats and monocles while sneering their disdain), or writing something serious when you’d rather dull the pain or intensity by making it funny. And at the end of this, I’m totally inviting you all over for some hot-dish, bars, and passive-aggressive disagreements because that’s how we roll in Minnesota. In my very first post on Rational Faiths, I talked about how the lack of female narratives I grew up with in the Church had affected me and in some ways left me totally unprepared for things like pregnancy and childbirth. In the years since then, I also became aware of another institutional failing we seem to have in regards to women in the church: sacred spaces. As our church is currently set-up, there are only a few places found in the temple where no man can go, no matter how high his calling. However, outside the temple, there are several places no woman ever has the authority to enter, but not a single space where the reverse is true. There are always at least a handful of men who have the authority to enter women’s spaces and even dictate how that space should be run if they view that as necessary. And while most priesthood-holding leaders are thankfully not inclined to do that, our structure absolutely allows for it. Men are even...

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Noah, Same-Sex Marriage, and Citizenship

The church offers materials in 105 languages on its website. At least portions of the website are available to be viewed in at least 73 languages. The Gospel Topics section, which has gotten a lot of attention for its essays on controversial topics, is available in 10 languages. Some of these are recent additions. I wanted to look at the Gospel Topics pages in each of the 10 languages to see if they all have the same pages available across languages. Here is the summary:   Pages which are only available in English Addiction Technically there is an addiction page in the other languages, but it only suggests that they look at “Gambling”, “Pornography” (also only in English), or “Word of Wisdom”. Citizenship While you might think that this should be a universal topic, the Gospel Topics page on Citizenship is very American centric. If you look at the footnotes you’ll see that 3 of the US founding fathers are cited. Daughters in my Kingdom I guess this book hasn’t been translated? I don’t know. The page links to a different page with “faith-promoting principles patterns, and practices contained in the history”. Maybe just that page of resources isn’t translated. Employment This surprisingly isn’t explicitly American centric in content. It basically says that you need to work and that according to the Family Proc, fathers are supposed to preside and provide. Maybe it’s not translated because of the awareness that in many economies internationally both parents have to work. However, if that was actually the reasoning then you’d think that it would easily apply in the US as well (because very few people have jobs capable of providing for a family on one income). Environmental Stewardship and Conservation I’m not sure why this isn’t available in other languages because it is a fantastic page. It even directly addresses likely rebuttals that you would hear from your average member, such as “If the earth will be changed at the Second Coming of Jesus, why does it...

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A Lack of Knowledge

by Michelle Wiener Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge: because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” In this verse, Hosea is condemning the Northern Kingdom of Israel for their rampant idol worship. Many people assume Israel’s main sin was Asherah/goddess worship, but that is only part of the equation. Israel’s real transgression of the “law of God” was, in essence, committing “spiritual harlotry” by linking Asherah to Baal worship. In doing so, they were profaning all that was sacred to God – namely, his Wife. Let’s examine these scriptures in context…. Keep in mind Hosea was given a rather odd prophetic assignment. He was asked by God to marry a woman of rather “questionable” reputation, and it is clear he was deeply in love with her. Could we even say, lovesick? However, try as he did to keep her in his arms, he could not. All throughout the Scriptures, we see scattered references to Heavenly Father as a “jealous God” (see Exodus 20:4-5, Deut. 32:16). What does this mean? It seems no one knows what to think of this verse, let alone how to interpret it. Does God have quasi-human characteristics? Why would the God of the universe be described as jealous? What could God possibly need that he doesn’t already have? Perhaps Hosea holds the key to interpreting this passage – for God, like Hosea, is a jealous husband – deeply in love and extremely protective over his beloved Asherah, who the Israelites keep “whoring out” to Baal. All throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is an ongoing competition between Baal and the Hebrew God/Heavenly Father. No sooner than the Israelites leave Egypt, they are found worshipping the golden calf, representative of the Canaanite god Baal- just in time for Moses to come down from the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments. This...

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Kate Kelly

Jan 05, 15 Kate Kelly

Posted by in Featured

As I look back on the Mormon roller coaster that was 2014, I think of my family and my transition out of church activity. It was a tough year for me theologically and personally. 2014 was a year of real ups and downs but, one milestone sticks out clearly: this year gave us a new kind of heroine- Kate Kelly. Though I do not agree with every tactical decision of the Ordain Women I do appreciate what the movement has given us. A new model for change. A way to invest in the Church without letting it dictate for us the future. Ordain Women has taught us an important lesson. Just because everything hasn’t changed doesn’t mean nothing has changed. Orthodoxy and radicalism can be intertwined and no group of white men can tidily untangle the mix. The leader of the Ordain Women movement, Kate Kelly, was burned at the proverbial stake by Church leaders, and has since been vilified by multitudes of orthodox and heterodox Mormons. Disappointingly some of those scurrilous attacks occurred right here on this very blog. But, she has since arisen like a phoenix out of the ashes with a newfound grace and tenacity that I hope inspires my girls and young women like them. Did Mormon women get the Priesthood? No. But, to see that as a failure of the movement is myopic. I do not think Mormonism will ever be the...

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Mormonism is Not Book of Mormon Christianity

With the new BYU curiculum change, one of the classes that will be required is “Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon.” It made me think about doctrinal similarities and differences between the Book of Mormon and modern Mormonism. Since I can’t write a blog post about every doctrinal comparison, I tried to pick the most important doctrine. In a 2012 conference address Elder Bednar quoted President David O. McKay stating, “If at this moment each one of you were asked to state in one sentence or phrase the most distinguishing feature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer?” (“The Mission of the Church and Its Members,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1956, 781). Elder Bednar continued: “The response President McKay gave to his own question was the ‘divine authority’ of the priesthood. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands apart from other churches that claim their authority is derived from historical succession, the scriptures, or theological training. We make the distinctive declaration that priesthood authority has been conferred by the laying on of hands directly from heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (David A. Bendar, “The Powers of Heaven” April 2012 General Conference). How does the Book of Mormon describe authority and Priesthood? Is it the same as modern Mormonism? Does it have the same emphasis on Priesthood from heavenly messengers by the laying on of hands? Priesthood in the Book of Mormon is difficult to pin down. The early Church followed the system of priests, teachers, and elders described in the Book of Mormon with Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, but Priesthood changes significantly after Sidney Rigdon arrived [1]. Furthermore, the “precious things” of authority, offices, and ordinations described in the Book of Mormon are not very “plain” (1 Nephi 13:40). Therefore it can be difficult to separate concepts of Priesthood in the Book of Mormon from more modern understanding of Priesthood within Mormonism, even from the perspective of an 1831 Mormon. Priesthood Authority What...

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