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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…..

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Early LDS Priesthood: Similar to Ancient Christianity?

Greg Prince wrote a book[1] on the evolution of LDS Priesthood.  In our next conversation, I’ll talk to Greg and I’ll ask him more about this evolution.  He even touches on the variations in the First Vision accounts.

Greg:  Yes, I think you need to start by backing up to the time when there wasn’t even a church and look at phases that Joseph Smith went through.  The earliest phase was there wasn’t even talk of the church.  There wasn’t even talk of authority.  When he had his First Vision, if you looked at the earliest version of that as likely being the most authentic historically, it had nothing to do with churches.

He said in his account of it in 1832, [he] already knew from studying the bible that all the churches were wrong, which is diametrically opposed to what the canonized version says.  So he went to the grove for personal forgiveness, and that’s what that account said.  The Lord appeared and said Joseph had been forgiven; end of story, bye, bye.  [There was] no hint that there would be a church in his future.

When you start to get into the Moroni narratives, then you have implicit authority, meaning that people around Joseph believed that something extraordinary was going on, and when he got the plates, they saw that something extraordinary was going on, and nobody challenged his authority to do it.  Towards the end of the translation process, they become concerned about having authority to perform ordinances, baptism being the primary one.

Did you know that in the early Mormon Church, Bishops and Deacons weren’t even a part of the organizational structure?

The Nephite Christian Church described in the latter chapters of the Book of Mormon had only three offices:  teachers, priests, and elders, and there’s minimal description in there, but there was a differentiation between the teachers and priests on the one hand, and elders on the other hand.  The word “priesthood” was not used.  In fact “priesthood” was more likely to be interpreted as “priestcraft” in the Book of Mormon, the evil priests.

If you look at the Far West record, which is basically the minute book of the early church general conferences, in the first conference that is recorded in June 1830, there are only three offices to which people are ordained:  teachers, priests, and elders.  You have two others appended in 1831:  those were deacons and bishops.

There are lots of other surprising insights.

You can make the claim that this is a restoration of the primitive church structure, but you can’t make that stick.  Yes those offices are recognized both in the New Testament.  It’s about as far as you can take it.  The concept of a dual-tiered priesthood existing within an early Christian church isn’t there.  It’s taking parts of Old Testament theology, parts of New Testament theology, doing some cherry-picking, and eventually settling in pretty much on where we have it now.

He also talks about some of the circular reasoning we have regarding priesthood.  Check out our conversation!  (Check out our previous episodes on leadership vacuums and ailing leaders too!)

[1] Greg’s book is called Priesthood from on High and is found at http://amzn.to/2nqcCFM