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Breaking Sealings: Who has the Power?

In a previous conversation with Dr. Bill Smith, we talked about how polygamous sealings were considered nearly permanent.  There are cases in which those can be broken.  After Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young claimed sole possession of the sealing power. Many apostles disagreed. How did it get resolved? Dr. Bill Smith explains in this interview. Does more than one man hold the sealing keys? And who is in charge of breaking sealings?  Is it just one man, or are there several people who can do it?

Bill:  I think that—opinions sort of vary with this but Brigham Young’s divorces where a sealing was involved, I think Brigham Young’s divorces that he granted were taken as dissolving the sealing.

GT:  Theological?  Ok.

Bill:  Which is in perfect harmony with the idea that sealing.  You could do it and you could undo it.

GT:  As prophet he had power to loose.

Bill: Yes, so that’s another big point in the discussion of the book is that in the revelation it’s very clear that only one person at a time has this authority to decide you can be sealed, you can’t be.  Or, you can engage in polygamy, you can’t, kind of thing.  This has all evolved onto a single person.  It even says historically, this is the way it has always been.  I don’t know how serious to take that, but it supports the idea that it’s really a one-man job.  So, who has the authority to decide?  This is a huge issue in succession.  Because obviously the guy who has this one-man authority is the guy to be in charge, right?

At one point, Joseph tries to separate his church presidency from his temple priest position as the one guy.  People don’t like this.  They are worried about it.  They don’t want to accept Hyrum as the church president and Joseph as saying.  Unfortunately, he is addressing a group, a very small group who is acquainted with his temple theology.  The people who aren’t are really upset by this.  “We don’t want Hyrum to be the prophet.  You are.”  He can’t be the prophet.

So, he takes it all back that afternoon.  But yes, he is really speaking to this idea of where things are, and I can’t go into the background here, but his sort of presidency of the High Priesthood sort of vaults him into the position of the one guy.  So, after he has died, after he is dead, the apostles weren’t in that tradition of High Priesthood. They weren’t in there at all.  They try to write themselves in at first, and then they say you can’t really do that.  It doesn’t work.  So, we have to a new tradition about this.

Is adultery grounds for breaking sealings?

Bill:  Adultery is a really touchy point within the revelation.  It’s a little bit confused.  Also, the whole thing is tied up in this idea where I mention in Matthew about the binding and loosing thing.  That is sort of Mark Staker’s thing about Peter, James, and John.  That’s connected in there.  So, the text is not perfectly clear.  That’s another point I try to make about the revelation.

Check out our conversation…..

After Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young claimed only he held the sealing power. Many apostles disagreed. Bill Smith tells how the issue was settled.

 

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Bringhurst’s Approach to Controversy

We’re continuing our discussions with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  We’ve talked about the controversial topics of blacks and the priesthood, as well as Fawn Brodie, and we’re going to continue to talk about controversial topics with Dr. Bringhurst.  What is Bringhurst’s Approach to Controversy?  We’ll ask him in this episode?

GT:  Apparently you enjoy controversy.  You’ve talked about blacks and the priesthood and then you talk about polygamy.  What are your latest polygamy books that you’ve put together?

Newell:  I’ve been involved with Craig Foster, a co-author, co-editor.  The two of us together did a series of volumes.  They are anthologies, collections of essays by various contributors as kind of a trilogy.  Volume 1 is the Persistence of Polygamy:  Joseph Smith and the Origins or Mormon Polygamy.  That was initially published in 2009 and we focus on the controversial aspects of Joseph Smith and his involvement and practice of polygamy.[1]

How does Newell deal with controversial topics?  Mentions his books have many perspectives from many different authors.  For example,

Newell:  Don Bradley did an essay on Fanny Alger, arguing that Joseph’s marriage to Fanny was actually a marriage and not an affair, not a “nasty, filthy affair” as Oliver Cowdery said.  I tend to take issue with him.  I allowed him to make his case and he gave a good argument for his position.  I felt like it should be out there for people to consider.  I’ve always considered myself to be fair-minded when I look at controversial issues.  I want to make sure that people are aware of all sides of an issue.

What does he like most about the study of Mormon history?

Newell:  I think that’s one of the healthy things about the field of Mormon studies.  You can disagree and not be disagreeable and still remain friends and enjoy camaraderie with people you disagree with.  I think that’s one of the great things about the whole field of Mormon studies.

Check out our conversation…..

Dr Newell Bringhurst talk about how he deals with controversy

[1] Volume 2 was published in 2013: The Persistence of Polygamy: From Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom to the First Manifesto, 1844-1890.  See http://amzn.to/2oEfFIj .  Volume 3 was published in 2015:  The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol. 3: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present.  See http://amzn.to/2FP20pq

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Bringhurst on Bushman-Brodie

Who has written the best biography of Joseph Smith?  The two most prominent authors are Fawn Brodie and Richard Bushman.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst weighs in on the Bushman-Brodie issue and talks strengths and weaknesses of both approaches.

Newell: Well, I tell people if they really want to know Joseph Smith, I recommend those two in tandem for this reason.  Number one is that Brodie really was a path-breaking study in trying to attribute reasons or motives to Joseph Smith and his practice of polygamy.  It was controversial because she starts it out by her major premise is Joseph Smith was a conscious fraud.  When you make that statement at the beginning of the book, that’s immediately going to send up red flags all over the place, but when you get into the book itself, she actually is quite empathetic to a lot of Joseph Smith’s behavior and actions.

She was able, I think, to create a more human figure.  In previous biographies, they have either pictured him as a scoundrel, anti-Mormon books that had been written by Smith, or in the case of books written by faithful Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith, had been made almost as a hagiographic, almost a demigod.  I think even though she didn’t believe that he was really a prophet of God, she tried to give you a sense of the whole man.

The sources she used, the critics that had problems with Brodie, not only had she started with the premise that Joseph is a conscious fraud but she uses a lot of/a disproportionate number of anti-Mormon sources, so that does make it a little bit of a skewed as far as she doesn’t give Joseph Smith enough credit as the religious leader that he was or that he purported to be.  That was one of my major criticisms that I saw from the book when I read it.

But when you compare Bushman’s arguments with Brodie’s, his is based a lot more on contemporary documents.  He had access to a lot more materials and documents that Brodie didn’t have access to, so his is a much more thoroughly researched and documented history, but I don’t think it is as engagingly written.

Fawn Brodie was trained in English literature and received her degree in English so she brought that expertise and is able to write in a very engaging way.  To me it’s a much more readable biography, but Bushman’s is more carefully documented and gives you all sides of the argument.  He’s arguing also from the vantage point of a faithful practicing Latter-day Saint.  He believes what he said he was a prophet of God and pretty much goes along with the divine origin and various doctrines and practices.  It’s far from being a hagiography because Bushman does acknowledge his faults and his shortcomings and the mistakes that he made and so on, so it’s good in that regard.

Don’t forget to check our previous episodes about Newell’s perspectives on race and the LDS Church.  Check out our conversation…..