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History & Theological Implications of Baby Blessings (Part 6)

Welcome to Gospel Tangents, the best source for Mormon history, science, and theology.  I’m your host Rick Bennett.  Dr. Jonathan Stapley devotes an entire chapter in his book, The Power of Godliness, to baby blessings.  Given that baby blessings are not considered salvific, why spend so much time on that?  Jonathan says it was his favorite chapter of the book!

Jonathan:  There’s this exchange of letters between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer in Zion.  Whitmer is the ward clerk. He has a Book of Remembrance.  Book of Remembrance is the book that Adam creates. And so, he has this sacred document in which he is to inscribe the inheritance of Zion. And if you come to Zion, you receive an inheritance, that is your inheritance for time and eternity, while the earth shall stand and in eternity when it’s renewed.  When babies are blessed, their name is written in the Book of Remembrance and they receive this inheritance.  They’re essentially brought into this salvific community where salvation is no longer an individual affair.  But it’s not really an individual affair in Mormonism ever.  But this explicitly communal salvation, in Zion that’s just really remarkable and that Zion essentially fails.  The Zion project, burns, and the saints moved to Illinois. And we have the Nauvoo Temple liturgy and the cosmological priesthood that reorders the world and universe of Latter-day Saints.  We see the baby blessing becoming an annunciation of children’s sealed position in the cosmological priesthood.

Had you considered that?  Check out our other conversations with Jonathan.

Dr. Jonathan Stapley says baby blessings are an "annunciation of children's sealed position in the cosmological priesthood."
Dr. Jonathan Stapley says baby blessings are an “annunciation of children’s sealed position in the cosmological priesthood.”

Check out our conversation…..

166:  Mormon History of Folk & Alternative Medicine (Stapley)

165:  Elder Oaks Groundbreaking Talk on Women & Priesthood(Stapley)

164:  The Mormon Priestess & Ordain Women (Stapley)

163:  Women Healers in LDS Temples (Stapley)

162:  Introduction to Cosmological Priesthood

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Elder Oaks Groundbreaking Address on Women & Priesthood (Part 4)

In April 2014, Elder Oaks gave a sermon on women and priesthood.  Dr. Jonathan Stapley said this was no ordinary talk.  He called it theologically groundbreaking!  I was a bit surprised how revolutionary Stapley felt the sermon was.  It seemed to me to be a response to the Ordain Women movement which was asking for women to be allowed to attend the priesthood session of General Conference.  I saw the address under a different light than Jonathan.

GT:  I remember just thinking, “Oh, this is just to placate the Kate Kelly people and to say, ‘Women, you’ve already got priesthood.  You just didn’t know it yet.’”  But you’re saying this is a theological change.

Jonathan:  When Elder Oaks delivered that sermon, I was looking around like, does anyone else [recognize this?]  This is mind-blowing.  I couldn’t believe it. And everyone else was just like, “Oh yeah, this is just Elder Oaks.”  Revolutions happen sometimes a very subtly apparently.

Jonathan: It’s certainly a linguistic shift and language frames our reality. So, it is certainly, for example, an interesting piece from Elder Oaks’ sermon was he was quoting in many parts from a sermon that Joseph Fielding Smith gave to the Relief Society in a general Relief Society meeting.  And in this meeting Joseph Fielding was as I remember, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, discussed women’s authority in the church and how they were heirs to a great heritage, but also heirs to authority and their capacity of the work in the Relief society and the temple. But he was quick to say, you have authority to do this work. You have authority in the temple, but authority is not the same thing as priesthood.

Jonathan: And Elder Oaks takes this sermon he talks about, he quotes Joseph Fielding Smith, how women have this great authority in the church and this great heritage. And then he stops and says, what else can this authority be except priesthood? Right? So, it’s this really wonderful kind of re-imagining of what these terms mean. At the same time, reaching to our past to grab hold of our past and make sure we’re still connected, but also in very interesting and creative ways, refashioning it in a way that makes more sense for the present.

Do you think Oaks talk was groundbreaking?  Let me know!  Check out our other conversations on women healers, Ordain Women, and click the video below to learn more about this conversation….

Elder Dallin Oaks gave a revolutionary sermon in April 2014 on women & priesthood.
Elder Dallin Oaks gave a revolutionary sermon in April 2014 on women & priesthood.
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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…..