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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.

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[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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Alice Cooper’s Roots in Lively Mormon Schisms

Have you ever heard the myth that Alice Cooper was a Mormon?  It turns out that’s partially true.  Historian John Hamer and Apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ will talk about some lively Mormon meetings, and we’ll talk a little bit about Alice Cooper as well.

GT:  No, this is great.  We’ve talked about Sidney Rigdon and some of the others.

John:  Oh, by the way, even though his church atomized, there is an extant Rigdonite-tradition church, and it’s called the Church of Jesus Christ.  It’s headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.  A lot of times people, outsiders, call them the Bickertonites.  They don’t particularly like that.  It’s names after William Bickerton who was an early leader of that church after Sidney Rigdon.  So that is in the Rigdon tradition and it is sometimes seen as the third largest of the extant branches from 1844 with Brighamites being the largest, Josephites, or Community of Christ/RLDS Tradition being the second largest; third-largest being Rigdonite or Bickertonite branch, so they are a very interesting group.

They are headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.  They have kind of a Kirtland-era church where they do feet-washing.  They have their little pentocostal—they do everything by the spirit.  They don’t write down the talks.  You have to do it by the spirit, just like praying by the spirit….

GT:  Oh, wow.

John:  …and other interesting things like that. They were the first restoration-tradition church to have a black apostle back in the 1920s.

GT:  Oh, wow.

John:  So there is all kinds of—who is the—Alice Cooper.[1]

Lachlan:  Oh, his dad.

GT:  I’m glad you mentioned that.

John:  Alice Cooper, I’m trying to remember his name.  Alice Cooper’s is named, I don’t remember, Nephi or something like that.

GT:  [Ether Moroni Furnier].

John:  Yeah, so he was one of the presidents or one of the apostles.  His grandfather was like one of the apostles.  [Alice] is not like an active member.  He was raised in the church.  I don’t think he was actually even baptized.[2]

GT:  You said they were Pentecostal.  Did they speak in tongues?

John:  That’s what I meant by Pentecostal. I don’t mean modern Pentecostal.

GT:  Oh, not modern Pentecostal.

John:  No, not modern Pentecostal.  Yes they speak in tongues, but not like a modern Pentecostal church.  I didn’t mean it that way, but in that same way:  Pentecost in terms of speaking in tongues.

GT:  A person moved upon by the spirit, would they get up and start speaking just strange [language]?

John:  I haven’t actually been to a service where they’ve don’t it.  Have you been to one where they’ve done it?

Lachlan:  I drove by but wasn’t able to stop.

John:  I went to a regional conference and it was really amazing.  I don’t remember, but nobody actually spoke in tongues during it, but it was the liveliest Latter Day Saint tradition service I have ever been to.  Some traditions, churches are kind of notoriously boring within the tradition.  I won’t point fingers, but this was the opposite of that.

Because at any given moment, the person who is presiding would say, “Brother Lach, do you feel like you can come up and speak to us on tithing?”

{Lachlan shrugs}

John:  And so you would come up and give a speech.  Do you feel to do a musical number?  I mean literally there was no program and you don’t know when it’s even going to end.  At a certain point I’m thinking, “What are they going to call on me to do?”  I’ve got to think what I’m going to say.  {chuckles}  It’s very active and lively.  It was really great.

We’ll also talk about differences between the LDS Church and RLDS Church.  What’s the difference between a pastor and a bishop?   Check out our conversation…..  (Don’t forget to listen to our discussion about people vying for leadership following Joseph Smith’s death.)


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[1] Alice Cooper was a famous man from the “shock-rock” performer from the 1970s.  His performances included special effects that made it appear his head was chopped off, and other gruesome acts during the concert.  He continues to perform.  He was born February 4, 1948 and his birth name was Vincent Damon Furnier.

[2] More information can be found at https://mormonheretic.org/2010/07/20/the-mormon-myth-about-alice-cooper/

 

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Different Succession Claims: Other Mormon Groups

Yesterday was President Monson’s funeral.  When an LDS President dies, the First Presidency is dissolved.  Have you ever wondered why that is the case?  Historian John Hamer and apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ will talk about why that happens in the LDS Church.  It’s a really interesting conversation as we discussion several succession claims.

John:  One of the last acts that Joseph Smith does before going to Carthage is he had given another one of these special blessings to Joseph III and several of these where Joseph had been prophesied at one point or another that he would be in his father’s role in being prophet, but he was what?  He was eleven?

Lachlan:  Eleven or eleven and a half.

John:  He’s eleven, so ok.  He wasn’t going to be the successor at that point.  What I argue, I think anyway, I think that the person who had the best claim at the point, in terms of both civil, and canon, which is to say church rules and law is Sidney Rigdon, who even though he’s been a little on the outs, he is still actively campaigning as the vice-presidential candidate in Joseph Smith’s U.S. presidential election.  So Joseph Smith then Sidney Rigdon; Sidney Rigdon is the only guy left in the First Presidency.

Even though in the LDS tradition, there is this idea that the First Presidency dissolves, and then the senior most apostle always succeeds, the only reason that is the idea is because they didn’t want to have Sidney Rigdon be in charge.  It doesn’t say that in the Doctrine & Covenants or anything like that.  There’s no canonical, there’s no canon law that says anything of the kind.  The First Presidency had been a completely distinct [quorum] in the early church tradition from the Twelve.

Lachlan:  There’s nothing that says it dissolves.

John: There’s nothing that says it dissolves and also not like the First Presidency is just like three more of the Twelve or something like that.  It’s a completely distinct [quorum.]  Anyway, so what I say is Sidney Rigdon is the last surviving member of the First Presidency and then according to the actual incorporation like we’re talking about the Church’s possession, William Marks had signed it over to Joseph Smith on behalf of the Church.  The Church is incorporated in the state of Illinois, and part of incorporation and the documents in Carthage, it says held by Joseph Smith as Trustee in Trust for the Church and my successors in the First Presidency.

Because of that, when Brigham Young does take over, he doesn’t create a new First Presidency; the Twelve just take over headquarters.  It’s one of the reasons why he is not able to get title to these temples is because James Strang knows about that because he has a lot of these guys in his group.  They know about this incorporation ruling.  This is really complicated details, but anyway, part of the idea of it is he charges that since he is the successor to the First Presidency, he has organized a new First Presidency.  This doesn’t in Brigham Young’s church until 1847, so he’s operating that way with the First Presidency, and so he says, “You don’t have a First Presidency. I have title to the Nauvoo Temple.  You’re trying to sell my temple.”

GT:  James Strang created a First Presidency and said that should be the successor?

John:  Yeah, he did that at that point.  But before that, I’ve got to dial it back.  The person who was the surviving member of the First Presidency then is Sidney Rigdon.  Sidney Rigdon gets outmaneuvered in this showdown between Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon.  He gets kicked out of Nauvoo, or flees for his life and he goes back and reorganizes and creates a new headquarters of the church in Pittsburgh.  But at that point, he suffers one of these things that all kinds of schismatic Mormon Latter Day Saint heritage churches do which is, then they start asking themselves:  where did we go wrong?

We will also talk about some of the other leaders who wanted to take over leadership of the LDS Church in the early days.  There’s a lot more people than you may recognize.  I also encourage you to check out the video.  John was kind enough to share some slides about the Succession crisis, and I have included them in the video.  Don’t forget to check out our conversations with Greg Prince and Jim Vun Cannon on the Succession Crisis.  Check out our conversation…..