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Elijah Ables’ Attempt for Temple Blessings #BlackHistoryMonth

We’re continuing our discussion of Black History Month with Russell Stevenson.  He’s the biographer of Elijah Ables, and we’ll talk about the end of Elijah’s life.  Did Elijah Ables affiliate with any other groups like James Strang, William Smith, or Sidney Rigdon?

Russell:  Going with that, we can maybe conclude that Elijah was certainly diplomatic and kind and charitable.  If you really want to go further out on a limb, more than the evidence that we have suggests, you can say that he affiliated with William Smith, the movement.  I’m not inclined to say that we have evidence to suggest that.

We’ll also talk about how Elijah worked on the Salt Lake Temple, but was never allowed to get his endowment.  Did he continue to try through the end of his life?

Now in 1879, he does petition to receive his temple endowment.  By this point his wife has passed away.  We do have some evidence that he petitioned Brigham Young at some point, but again that’s pretty late and we don’t have any contemporary documentation to back that up.

Check out our conversation…..

(Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations about Elijah Abel’s early life, his mission to Canada, and his troubles in Cincinnati.)  You also might want to check out what Paul Reeve said on this topic!

Photo from dedication of the Salt Lake Temple dedication in 1892
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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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Comparing LDS and RLDS Temple Worship

In our next conversation, we’ll talk about differences in temple worship between the LDS Church and the RLDS Church.  (Note:  The Community of Christ has been historically known as the RLDS Church.)  Community of Christ Apostle, Lachlan MacKay and John Hamer (a Seventy) discuss the differences in temple worship between the two churches, and how the temple has evolved.

Lachlan:  Sure.  So Kirtland in the 1830s, it’s a house for public worship with a strong emphasis on empowerment, both spiritually and intellectually.  Two-thirds of Kirtland Temple was classroom space.  You would worship in the temple on Sundays, and you would go to school six days a week.  Kirtland High School met on the third floor.  Students ranged in age from six through adults, so it was the center of their community life.

My sense is that in Nauvoo the same was going to be true, but you did start to have to have, I believe, a receipt saying you were a tithe payer in order to gain access to the baptismal font, and they didn’t welcome non-members in the temple in Nauvoo while they were performing ordinances, but it was still a public building.  That receipt, I think, is what many generations later would become the idea of a temple recommend.

John:  This idea for the LDS tradition of having what constitutes temple work and everything like that, almost all of this is extremely different than what existed in Kirtland.  There’s no font, like you say, in the Kirtland Temple.  That’s something that begins in Nauvoo.  The same thing, the Endowment ceremony, and things like that is taking place after Joseph Smith had been exposed to Freemasonry and things like that so that also isn’t taking place, the whole liturgy and things like that in Kirtland.

I have a chart.  I’ll give it to you so you can splice it in if you want for the videos, but essentially where you take the spaces that exist, you’ve taken Kirtland, like what Lach is telling you about, the spaces of worship, the space for learning, the space for order, the church offices and things like that, you can see where they have that same major portion of the space is devoted to that in Nauvoo, but then there’s also the space for the baptism of the dead in the basement and there’s a space for endowments in the attic.

Then you go to Salt Lake, all of that is preserved so there’s a big solemn assembly hall and things like that in the Salt Lake Temple.  There are the offices for the apostles and things like that, but then when you get to the little temples that are in the LDS tradition, which might be what most Mormons in the Utah tradition are exposed to, they don’t have any of those things that are from the Kirtland period.  All they have is the basement and attic part of the Nauvoo Temple and that’s their whole experience.  So they go and that’s their temple experience.  They go to Kirtland and say, “What did these Reorganites do to the temple?  It’s not even—it’s so alien.”  That’s what Kirtland is!  But anyway, we’re each honoring different parts of the heritage.

We’ll also talk about baptism for the dead as well as vision of Elijah in 1836 in the Kirtland Temple.  It’s going to be a very interesting conversation.  I hope you check it out (as well as part 1 of our conversation)!