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Women, Healers in LDS Temples

In the 19th and early 20th century, there are many examples Mormon women healers.  These women used to lay hands on the sick.  By what power did they do this?

GT: I remember as a priest growing up and having the lesson over and over:  priesthood is the power to act in the name of God.

Jonathan:  Okay.

GT: Okay.

Jonathan: That is a common definition.

GT:  A common definition. So, what I heard you say was that women in the 1800s especially, but even into the 20th century, healed both men and women, probably more women than men, but it happened with both genders. They healed by the power of God. But it’s a mistake to call that priesthood.  Is that correct?

Jonathan:  Yeah. So, using today’s definitions to describe historical practice doesn’t work.

GT: Okay.

Jonathan:  It just doesn’t work.

GT: So,  it’s hard to talk about then.

Jonathan: So it’s consequently challenging. Right? So, well then how do we talk about it?

Honestly, this was a fun and challenging conversation.  Stapley says that the term “priesthood” used today, while a definition is “the power of God”, priesthood also implies ecclesiastical authority.  Women can freely utilize “the power of God,” but since they don’t have ecclesiastical authority, it is a mistake to call the healing blessings they did “priesthood.”  For me, the terms “power of God” and “priesthood” were so synonymous, that I didn’t understand the distinction Stapley was making.  Check out how Jonathan clears up my misunderstanding.

He also gives us more information on baptisms for health, and temple healers.  I was not familiar with temple healers.  It turns out that women often fulfilled this (now defunct) practice of a temple healer.

Jonathan:  There are examples of people being baptized in the Kirtland era and being healed upon their baptism, but an actual healing ritual, a designated ritual, baptism for health occurs in Nauvoo. It’s designed to be, I think it envisioned as part of the temple. So, the temple is a place for healing, specifically Joseph Smith envisions it as a place where the sick would come and not only receive an endowment of power and create heaven, but also be physically healed. Baptism for health was an integral piece of that healing liturgy, but it is immediately and ubiquitously performed outside of the temple.

So in the rivers and wherever the Latter-day Saints go from that point forward, baptisms for health are common. As soon as the temples are built, there are regular days for baptisms for health. So, if you’re feeling unwell, you could make a pilgrimage to the temple. One of the temple healers could baptize you for your health.

GT: In the temple?

Jonathan: In the temple, and they kept records. In fact, the single most common temple ritual for many years in the 1880s was baptism for health. So there was more baptisms for health for the living. I should qualify that. The most common ritual for the living in the temples was baptism for health.

Early Mormon women anointed with oil and laid hands on the sick to heal.
Early Mormon women anointed with oil and laid hands on the sick to heal.

You should also check out our previous conversation where we talk about “cosmological priesthood.”  Check out our conversation…..

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Introduction to the Power of Godliness

Welcome to Gospel Tangents, the best source for Mormon history, science, and theology.  I’d like to introduce Dr. Jonathan Stapley.  He has written a new book called the Power of Godliness, which talks about LDS priesthood. Jonathan introduces a new term into LDS lexicon:  cosmological priesthood.  What does that mean?

Jonathan:  I called that in the book, the “cosmological priesthood.” Now that I’ve done several book events, I’m tired of that, and I find it annoying and it is a little idiosyncratic and silly. I’m not saying that there was the Aaronic Priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the Cosmological Priesthood.  It’s a heuristic device that we can use to understand the dynamics and what was the work that these rituals were doing in the community that performed them. And so, we have an ecclesiastical priesthood and what I’m framing is the cosmological priesthood, the Nauvoo temple liturgy. And there’s how Mormons viewed them and how they interacted with these concepts, a shift and change with successive waves of converts and generations of Mormons.

We’ll also talk about the trite phrase about priesthood and motherhood.

Jonathan:  When I talk to people about this, Mormons have created a dichotomy oftentimes between priesthood and motherhood, which I talk about in the book and I think isn’t particularly a historical, it is historical in the sense that it’s been around for a while, but isn’t, it doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense within our tradition.  But I will often ask, what is “the motherhood?”  And that’s a phraseology that doesn’t really sound familiar to us. It doesn’t make, it doesn’t have an obvious meaning, because what motherhood is, is being a mother. That’s what it means. So, if you were to say, “the motherhood,” you could conceive of it as perhaps a group of mothers. That would be “the motherhood” perhaps.

But priesthood is a similar construction. So, early on, the earliest revelations and the earliest documents we have, construct a priesthood that it is essentially the capacity of a priest, just as motherhood is the capacity of a mother. So, you would ordain somebody to be a priest or an elder and that would be priesthood. And quickly, Joseph Smith has subsequent revelations that create larger cosmological valances to what priesthood is. But what I tried to do is create a framework in the book that makes all the shifts in bicycle dynamics within Mormon discussions of priesthood, sensible and, and the way I do that is by framing one area of priesthood as an ecclesiastical priesthood.

Dr. Jonathan Stapley introduces the concept of "cosmological priesthood."
Dr. Jonathan Stapley introduces the concept of “cosmological priesthood.”

Don’t forget to check out our conversation on priesthood with Greg Prince!  Check out our conversation…..

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Start of RLDS Church & Mormon Schisms Tour

We’re about ready to finish our conversation with John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ and do a Mormon Schisms Tour!  In this next conversation, we’ll talk about how confusing it must have been to live following the death of Joseph Smith.

John:  You might have a branch where at a certain point, you’ve heard Joseph Smith has been killed.  You are very sad.  Brighamite missionaries come through.  They say the Twelve are now in charge and things like that.  Everyone says, “Hey, now we got it.  We’ve read about that in the newspaper and this kind of thing.”  Then, a couple of months later, somebody from Voree comes with the Voree Herald and they explain how the Twelve are in apostasy, and this and that, and why all of the prophetic gifts that prove that Strang is the successor, and they are like, “Oh, we’re Strangites now.”

There isn’t anything in particular that necessarily happens for the branch.  So like I say for the Hedrickites, they are one of five, maybe, of these branches that are in a cluster around Bloomington, Illinois.  I think probably at some point or another, they will have been affiliated with Strang, but at a certain point, maybe when he “affiliated,” whatever it even means.  Strangite missionaries will come through there, and that’s one of the reasons why maybe they didn’t gather and go west.

We’ll talk about the founding of the RLDS Church.

John:  This is the origin of the Reorganization.  So the branches start to pray about it.  They fall back on individual personal revelations for the individual congregations, the pastors.  They start meeting together.  As they are thinking about it, William Smith has a church in the meantime and William Smith has been promoting the idea of lineal succession.  There has been, (I think I mentioned a while ago), there’s the sense that Joseph Smith’s posterity, somebody, one of his sons is going to be the successor or will emerge as the successor.  They start to regather these branches and the form a conference organization, which is a loose structure.  There’s no corporate entity here still.

So they pass resolutions together in conferences where they say they are going to wait for one of Joseph Smith’s sons, probably Joseph Smith III to emerge to receive the prophetic calling and to accept that mantle.  So when that happens in 1860, he comes to a conference of the New Organization, what becomes the Reorganization and what becomes Community of Christ, then that becomes something that all these little branches start to get really excited about.  Fairly quickly, then that Reorganization draws from all the different tradition churches, including people who had gone west who are dissatisfied with what was going on under Brigham Young in Utah.

It turns out that some other Mormon schismatic groups are contemporaries of Joseph Smith III.  John talks briefly about several of these churches, “There’s more –ites; that’s hardly an exhaustive group so I don’t mean to be leaving anybody out.  They are very interesting.”  He’ll briefly discuss founding of the Hedrickites, Williamites, Josephites, Cutlerites, Whitmerites, and their relationship to the RLDS Church.  Lachlan MacKay will also tell when and why the Kirtland Temple changed from a bluish-gray color to the current white color it is today.  It’s going to be a fun conversation. I hope you check out our Mormon Schisms Tour!