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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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Mormon Followers of the Prophet James Strang

James Strang was one of the most unlikely people to succeed following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844.  Historian John Hamer will talk more about James Strang and his group, sometimes called the Strangites.

John:  Yeah.  Of all of the different people that could have emerged in the Succession Crisis, this is the one that would be most unexpected to anybody before Joseph Smith’s death because he had been a relatively recent convert.  He had been to Nauvoo.  Strangite recollections are that he had been baptized by Joseph.  He lived in Wisconsin, and so he wasn’t an insider in any significant way.

But what happens fairly quickly is that he announces all sorts of new prophetic signs, callings, and things like that that, or examples.  For example, there’s a new set of plates that are found by a new set of official witnesses.  There’s a new translation.

One thing he says, at the same moment that Joseph Smith is killed, an angel appeared to him and ordained him to be prophet, seer, revelator, and translator to the church.  There can only be one on the planet at a time.  So there’s not a thing where Joseph Smith can just give a bunch of keys to different people and then you collect the keys or something like that.  It only can be one guy at a time and it’s not because you can’t—if we ran out of elders in the LDS Church, you can’t have a deacon ordain some new elder, so Strang says you can’t have apostles ordain a prophet because that doesn’t make any sense.  You can’t a lower ordain [a higher.]  Essentially the only way, according to Strang, that you could have had a successor is the same way that Joseph Smith became prophet which is through angelic ordination, or two, there is a verse in the Doctrine & Covenants that says if Joseph shall fall, he will not have any power save it be the need to appoint another in his stead.[1]

So James Strang had a letter.  His interpretation of the letter is that it appointed him to be the successor, Joseph Smith’s successor.  It’s a little bit ambiguously worded in that way.  Also nobody who wasn’t a Strangite believed the letter was genuine.  So it’s a contested letter, but he used the letter also as a claim on the two fronts there:  there’s angelic ordination on the one hand, and he’s also been appointed the successor.

We’ll learn more about some golden plates that he translated.

GT:  Ok.  He also had some plates.  I think there’s The Book of the Law of the Lord,[2] and yesterday you talked about the Voree Plates.

John:  Yes.

GT:  Let’s talk about those.

John:  The first set of plates are the Voree Plates.

GT:  Oh that was the first set.

John:  Yes.

GT:  Oh I didn’t realize that.

John:  Yes.  The first set of plates that Strang announces are the Voree Plates and it’s just very interesting story.  I could talk about it for hours and hours.  But anyway the idea of it is that near Strang’s house in Burlington, Wisconsin in a place that comes to be known as Voree.  There’s a hill.  An angel in a vision, Strang says, told him where plates are buried.  He brings four guys to that spot.  He shows them where the angel told them.  They have shovels or whatever, and then Strang leaves.

So they dig up what I told you, they believe that the earth has never been disturbed and that they actually have to get under the roots of this big old tree and things like that.  They are convinced that the thing had been buried many, many years ago before this oak tree was on top of it and that kind of thing.

Anyway they dig up plates.  They are plates, though, that people physically see and it’s not simply the official witnesses who see.  Thousands of people see the plates including obviously lots of non-members including the local newspaperman who is the newspaper editor of the Kenosha newspaper and he actually goes on to be the guy that invents the QWERTY typewriter keyboard.  So that guy saw them.  He didn’t pass judgment on them or whatever.  He said some people thing they are pretty marvelous.  But the point is it was a physical artifact.

So Strang prints a translation of it through the gift and power of God.  He says that he able to translate these plates.  The gist of the translation is again, it’s a people that are killed off, just like the Nephites.  It doesn’t say Nephites, but anyway, a Native people that have died in a great battle at this spot again, but this spot is going to be a place of refuge that at some point or other the church, God’s people, are going to, the forerunner, essentially the first prophet Joseph Smith—it doesn’t say it in those terms, but I’m just going to read between the lines here, Joseph Smith is going to get executed and the people are going to have to flee, the first refuge, and so they’ll come to gather to Voree, the great successor is going to emerge.

Check out the video or audio to hear John talk more about his life.  Strang was also martyred, similar to Joseph Smith, and his followers suffered even worse persecution on the shores of Lake Michigan.   (Don’t forget to learn about another schismatic group, the Bickertonites in our previous conversation.)  Check out our conversation…..

[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/

[3] See D&C 42:10 found at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/42.78?lang=tha&clang=eng

[4] Basic info found at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_Law_of_the_Lord

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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/