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Surprising Word of Wisdom Insights from an Apostle

One of Mormonism’s most well-known revelations is the Word of Wisdom.  Apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ discusses the historical context of the Word of Wisdom.  It turns out that 19th century saints had no problem serving wine at weddings, and beer wasn’t forbidden.  While many of us have heard of Prohibition, Temperance, and strong drinks, did you know that alcohol was used for ritual cleansing in the Kirtland Temple?

Lachlan:  You get to Kirtland Temple and it expands a little bit.  They would do a ritual cleansing outside the temple in the schoolhouse behind the temple or sometimes in Joseph’s home, so with cinnamon whiskey and perfumed water, ritual cleansing.  Put on clean clothes.  Go to the third floor of the temple, anoint the head with oil, sealing or confirming blessing of that anointing and then feet washing downstairs.  That took weeks, so it’s not something you do in an afternoon.  They spent months or years in preparation for that.

The process took weeks, and through that process, they understood that they were then empowered by the Holy Spirit and could go into the world.  We wouldn’t allow our missionaries to go oversees until they had been endowed with power.  So even 1839, most of the members have left Kirtland.  There are new missionaries who were not there in the 1830s.  Joseph had them detour through Kirtland—Theodore Turley, John Taylor among them.  Brigham Young goes with [them] so that they can be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and only then could they sail to the United Kingdom.

GT:  Oh wow.  You also had mentioned they didn’t bathe everyday like we do now.

Lachlan:  Yeah, so I think that cinnamon whiskey would cleanse,[1] it would sterilize.  It would make them smell better, so it was purification physically, spiritually, in every way in preparation to go to the temple.

But that’s not all.  Lachlan also tells about his fear of having a Word of Wisdom cook during youth camps!

GT chuckles:  And then you also mentioned something about eating meat sparingly.  I think you said some people wouldn’t eat between Easter and, was it Thanksgiving?

Lachlan:  Thanksgiving.  Yeah, I know Community of Christ members, this would not be typical at all, but I do know members who would not eat meat between Easter and Thanksgiving, which meant that whenever I visited there was tuna noodle casserole {chuckles}, because they didn’t consider fish meat.  We do a lot of camps in Community of Christ, both as youth camps and family camps.  My greatest fear as a kid was having a Word of Wisdom cook:  not much meat, lots of whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables. Now I spend a lot of time at camps, and my greatest fear is that we won’t have a Word of Wisdom cook.

What about the use of tobacco for cattle?

GT:  Ok.  There’s another reference that I wanted to mention.  In fact I was going to ask this in the class today but I didn’t:  the reference to tobacco.  It says for “for all sick cattle.”[2]  Tom Kimball was nice enough to send me a copy of Mormonism Unvailed, the first anti-Mormon book ever that Dan Vogel just recently put some awesome footnotes in there.  I do remember E.D. Howe, who was definitely an anti-Mormon, a little bit over the top.  It was kind of interesting to read that book.  One of the things that he made fun of was the Word of Wisdom.  He said, “well if you’re supposed to use this for sick cattle, what are you doing?”  {everyone chuckles}  [Joseph] didn’t prescribe that very well.  Do you have any idea what that reference was?

Lachlan:  I was just having a discussion with somebody who saw that it was often used for poultices,[3] maybe that’s the bruised part of the tobacco more than anything.  The cattle part, this might be highly speculative, but it’s one of the things I want to track down.  I was at the tow path on a canal in New Hope, Pennsylvania not long ago, reading an interpretive panel, and it talked about how the mules as they got tired would be given tobacco!  {chuckles}

Lach has a lot of other amazing insights!  Check out our conversation…..

Don’t forget to listen to our interview with Greg Prince on the Word of Wisdom, as well as our previous episode discussing why the Word of Wisdom led to James Strang’s death in Michigan.


[1] D&C 89:7 reads, “And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.”

[2] D&C 89:8 reads, “And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.”

[3] a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth.

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The Strange Kirtland Temple Ownership Problems

Following the Kirtland Banking Crisis in 1838, Joseph Smith left town in the dead of the night.  The town of Kirtland was basically bankrupt.  Because of this, ownership of the temple was claimed by several people.  John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay will talk about Kirtland Temple ownership problems.  It’s a little bit like a soap-opera.   We’ll also hear an episode where people stormed the temple with guns and knives to try to take ownership of the temple.

Lachlan:  This is the one where Joseph Smith Sr. is at the pulpit on the west end.  The dissenters are concerned and hoping to take possession of the temple, and they stormed to the front with guns and knives drawn.  I think this is Oliver Huntington, one of the Huntington boys said, “Them that had chicken-hearts dove out the windows for safety.”

The police are called in to restore order.  They rush in and they knocked over a stove-pipe.  So I just imagine soot filling the room.  The best part is, after that chaos, they eject the belligerents and resume the services of the day.  {Everyone chuckles}

GT:  Really!  Wow.

Lachlan:  So I think that’s probably what you were referring to.

GT:  Yeah, it must have been quite a service!  {all chuckle}  We don’t talk about that in the LDS tradition very often.  I remember reading that somewhere and just going, “Wow!”

Lachlan:  I think one of them is even—they are walking from the front to the back, in some cases over the back of the pews, so stepping from pew-box to pew-box because the aisles are full of people, so they have to walk on the top of the pew-boxes to get up there.

We also talk about some other Mormon groups:  Strangites & Hedrickites and their involvement in Kirtland Temple ownership.  I also update our previous conversation with Dr. Richard Bennett about Brigham Young trying to sell the Kirtland Temple!  Was the Kirtland Temple turned into a sheep shed?  How did the Kirtland Banking Crisis affect ownership?  What else can we learn about the Kirtland Temple over the years?  Check out our conversation…..

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A Seventy & Apostle Discuss Myths & Kirtland Temple

I’m excited to start 2018 two amazing guests: a Seventy and an Apostle of the Community of Christ: John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay. I’ll let them introduce themselves.

Lachlan:  Sure, [I’m] Lachlan MacKay, a member of the Council of Twelve in the Community of Christ.  I oversee the northeast field in the U.S. which is Michigan and basically Kirtland to Maine to Virginia.  I have functional assignments including Community of Christ Historic Sites.  I oversee historic sites and lead the church history and sacred story team.

John: In terms of the history work that I do, I primarily have studied the broader Latter-day Saint tradition churches.  Like I say that would be all manner of –ites, so the Strangites,[1] especially but also Cutlerites[2] and Hendrickites[3] and everybody else, Josephites,[4] our tradition.  I’m a member of Community of Christ.  I serve as the pastor of the downtown Toronto congregation.  I’ve been called to be a Seventy.  I’m a Seventy-designate.  The ordination will happen in October.[5]  I am also a past president of the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA), which is essentially the other –ites, or the Community of Christ’s version of the Mormon History Association (MHA), those kind of things.

We’ll be talking a little bit about LDS myths.

GT:  One of my favorite blog posts was, it’s been a decade now, the Top Myths about the Community of Christ for Mormons.

John:  Oh yeah, the Top 10 myths, I don’t remember exactly how it was, the top 10 Mormon myths about the Community of Christ or something like that.  That one we ended up doing a couple of podcasts with that. I think we did one on Mormon Expression that was on that same topic.

One of the ones for the LDS Tradition, one of the blogs posts that gets the most traction is for whatever reason, sometime in your curriculum every spring you do the Milk & Strippings story.[6]  Then suddenly this essay that I’ve written that has been read more times is on the Milk & Strippings story because every May or something like that it comes up for some reason.  I don’t know why.

We will also talk about the construction of the Kirtland Temple.  (Don’t forget to check out our previous discussion with Dr. Mark Staker and Dr. Richard Bennett!)  Check out our conversation!

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[1] Because so many churches founded by Joseph Smith have similar names, sometimes it is easier to name the groups by their next founder.  For example, the Strangites have a similar name as the mainline LDS Church.  Their church is officially known with slightly different capitalization and punctuation as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (vs. Latter-day Saints), and were founded by James Strang following an angelic visit.  We will talk more about them in a future episode.

[2] Cutlerites were founded by Alpheus Cutler and are officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ.

[3] Hedrickites were founded by Granville Hedrick and officially known as the Church of Christ or Church of Christ (Temple Lot.)  They are sometimes referred to as the Temple Lot Church.  We will discuss them in a future episode.

[4] Josephites are better known as Community of Christ or RLDS Church.  The official name is the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  They are called Josephites after Joseph Smith III.  The Utah church is sometimes referred to as Brighamites, after Brigham Young.

[5] John was ordained in October 2017.

[6] The Milk Strippings story is a story in which the LDS Church claims that apostle Thomas B. Marsh was excommunicated for defending his wife.  As the story goes, his wife took extra milk for butter, known as “milk strippings.”  John wrote a post that there was more context to the story than is given in LDS Sunday School manuals.  See