Mormon Doctrine on the Dustbin (Part One)

Posted: August 5, 2018 in Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies, Official Mormon Doctrine

“If history has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s Mormonism is tomorrow’s dustbin fodder”

by Fred W. Anson
The Church of Jesus Christ claims, “The gospel has been known throughout eternity, and its principles have been preached among men and women from their beginnings on this earth.” (Robert L. Millet, “The Eternal Gospel”, Ensign, July 1996) and “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.” (Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and the Church”, Ensign, November 1984).

But history tells a different tale: The Mormon gospel is temporal and constantly changing. Here’s a partial list of Mormon Doctrine, scripture, and bits and various pieces that have been left on the dustbin of history. More will follow in the articles in this ongoing, intermittent series of articles.

1) The 1830 Book of Mormon
The original 1830 edition was obsoleted by the 1837 revised edition and they’ve been changing it ever since. For a book Joseph Smith claimed to be “the most correct of any book on earth,” it is suspicious that the text has undergone nearly 4,000 changes. Most of the changes, Mormon apologists argue, are small grammatical or punctuation fixes. But consider this change between the 1830 and 1937 editions.

“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior … “ (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 32)

“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior …” (Book of Mormon, 1837 edition, 1 Nephi 13:40)

The change, of course, reflects Joseph Smith’s post, Book of Mormon shift from a form of modalistic Trinitarianism to Tri-Theism. And because other changes in the 1837 were equally significant, it’s not unfair to say that as of 1837 the original 1830 Book of Mormon was displaced by a new book. Please see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism for a list of Book of Mormon editions up to to the encyclopedia’s 1992 publication date.

2) The 1833 Book of Commandments
This was intended to be a bound collection of Joseph Smith’s published revelations (which had appeared intermittently in the official church newspaper, Evening and Morning Star) as well as some previously unreleased revelations. However, before it could be completed and distributed, a mob attacked the print shop where the Book of Commandments was being printed and destroyed the printing press. This was the end of the Book of Commandments which was obsoleted by the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants. However, even though Doctrine & Covenants contained many of the same revelations there were numerous, material revisions. For example, the apostles Peter, James, and John imparting Joseph Smith Jr. with the Priesthood is in section 27 of D&C, but is missing from the Book of Commandments. Another example is this one:

“…and he has a gift to translate the book and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”
(Book of Commandments, 4:2)

This passage refers to Joseph Smith in the third person. However, in the re-numbered Doctrine and Covenants the same revelation reads:

“…and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”
(Doctrine and Covenants, 5:4)

So in the revelation in the Book of Commandments Smith was only to translate the Book of Mormon and claim no other role or gifting. However, in the Doctrine & Covenants version Smith is given far greater roles, callings, and ecclesiastical power over and above simply translating the Book of Mormon. This is just a small sampling of the numerous changes between the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Of course, the logical question is, “Why did God change His mind on so many matters in just 2-years?”

The Lectures On Faith today: Decanonized and a stand-alone book

3) The Lectures on Faith
Approved by Common Consent in 1834, “stealth” de-canonized in 1921. From Wikipedia:

“Lectures on Faith” is a set of seven lectures on the doctrine and theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, first published as the doctrine portion of the 1835 edition of the canonical Doctrine and Covenants, but later removed from that work by both major branches of the faith [that is, the LdS Church and the RLDS Church]. The lectures were originally presented by Joseph Smith to a group of elders in a course known as the “School of the Prophets” in the early winter of 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio…

The LDS Church removed the lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, with an explanation that the Lectures, “were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons”. (See Introduction, 1921 edition.) This is in contrast to the remaining pages of the original Doctrine and Covenants, which are officially recognized by nearly all Latter Day Saint denominations as divine revelation given specifically to the church.”
(“Lectures on Faith”, Wikipedia article)

4) The Journal of Discourses
The 19th Century version of today’s Ensign magazine. The Journal of Discourses was considered one of the “Standard Works” (scripture) during its time of publication:

“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy, every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill.'”
(President George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 8)

Yet today the LdS Church disavows and distances itself from the Journal of Discourses:

“The Journal of Discourses is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a compilation of sermons and other materials from the early years of the Church, which were transcribed and then published. It included some doctrinal instruction but also practical teaching, some of which is speculative in nature and some of which is only of historical interest.”
(Gospel Topics article, “Journal of Discourses”, Official LdS Church website)

5) Bruce McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”
Bruce McConkie’s classic book “Mormon Doctrine” is one of the single most cited Latter-day Saint works outside of scripture. As Wikipedia explains:

“Mormon Doctrine (originally subtitled A Compendium of the Gospel) is an encyclopedic work written in 1958 by Bruce R. McConkie, a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It was intended primarily for a Latter-day Saint audience and is often used as a reference book by church members because of its comprehensive nature. It was not and has never been an official publication of the church, and it has been both heavily criticized by some church leaders and members, while well regarded by others. After the book’s first edition was removed from publication at the instruction of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, corrections were made in subsequent editions. The book went through three editions, but as of 2010, it is out of print.”
(Mormon Doctrine (book), Wikipedia article)

And as Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever observes:

Many Mormons who currently wish to distance themselves from McConkie and his teachings ignore both the impact he made on the LDS Church when he was alive and the statements made by colleagues after his death. When he died in 1985 after a long struggle with cancer, church leaders took turns giving his eulogy. An article written on McConkie’s life (“Elder Bruce R. McConkie: ‘Preacher of Righteousness,” Ensign, June 1985, pp. 15ff) concluded this way: “Because of his life and testimony, our faith has been strengthened and our hope for eternal life is brighter.” Several of his colleagues praised him for his personal piety while others took note of his ability to teach and understand LDS doctrine.

Ezra Taft Benson, then a fellow apostle, noted in his remarks that whenever a doctrinal question “came before the First Presidency and the Twelve,” it was Bruce McConkie “who was asked to quote the scripture or to comment on the matter. He could quote scripture verbatim and at great length.” According to Benson, McConkie “provided the entire Church with an example of gospel scholarship. He could teach the gospel with ease because he first understood the gospel.”

Mormon Apostle Boyd Packer spoke of McConkie’s uncompromising attitude he had toward his obligation to speak the truth. “It was not granted to Brother McConkie to judge beforehand how his discourses would be received and then to alter them accordingly. Nor could he measure what ought to be said and how it ought to be said by ‘what will people think?’”

Gordon Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency, was the concluding speaker. In his comments he stated, “I felt like a little puppy trying to keep up with McConkie as he took his long measured steps…So it has been with most of us in keeping up with the stride of his mind in scholarship in the gospel” (Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, p.418).

Given the high regard these LDS leaders had for McConkie, why do so many members today seem to have such a low respect for this man?”
(Bill McKeever, “Bruce McConkie: Respected General Authority or Theological Hack?”)

Polygamy wedding cake

6) Mortal Polygamy
The fact that Mormons used to practice mortal polygamy (aka, a man being married to more than one living wife at the same time during his lifetime) is a secret to no one. It’s one of the most commonly known and distinguishing characteristics of Mormonism in the public’s mind. The subject is complex, deep, and wide so I can hardly do it justice in a paragraph or two.

What’s far more interesting, however, is how after its demise was announced to the public in 1890, it still continued privately among the leaders until 1904. As the official LdS Church website explains:

The [1890 Official Declaration 1] Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations. Ever since the opening of colonies in Mexico and Canada, Church leaders had performed plural marriages in those countries, and after October 1890, plural marriages continued to be quietly performed there. As a rule, these marriages were not promoted by Church leaders and were difficult to get approved. Either one or both of the spouses who entered into these unions typically had to agree to remain in Canada or Mexico. Under exceptional circumstances, a smaller number of new plural marriages were performed in the United States between 1890 and 1904, though whether the marriages were authorized to have been performed within the states is unclear…

At the April 1904 general conference, President [Joseph F.] Smith issued a forceful statement, known as the Second Manifesto, attaching penalties to entering into plural marriage: “If any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.” This statement had been approved by the leading councils of the Church and was unanimously sustained at the conference as authoritative and binding on the Church.

The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church. The Second Manifesto expanded the reach and scope of the first. “When [the Manifesto] was given,” Elder Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained, “it simply gave notice to the Saints that they need not enter plural marriage any longer, but the action taken at the conference held in Salt Lake City on the 6th day of April 1904 [the Second Manifesto] made that manifesto prohibitory.”
(“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage”, official LdS Church website) 

That’s all well and good, except for the fact that polygamy is a requirement for Celestial Exaltation (being granted eternal life in the presence of Heavenly Father and being deified as a god)  as Doctrine & Covenant 132 explains in coded “insider” language – “covenant”, “everlasting covenant” meaning “polygamy”; “glory” meaning “celestial exaltation”.

Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
(verses 3-4)

Then shall they [the couple sealed for time and eternity] be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
(verses 20-21)

(click to zoom)

So does this mean that Celestial Exaltation has been impossible since the two Manifestos? The answer is, “No.” Thanks to the magic of Latter-day Saint dustbin dynamics, the requirement for polygamy simply disappeared and now, one needs only be sealed in an LdS Temple to one’s spouse for “time and eternity”, fulfill all the other requirements of Celestial Law and according to modern Mormonism, you’re good to go. In fact, modern Mormons are now taught that the insider language in D&C 132 has always meant that. So right into the dustbin goes polygamy!

Or does it? What has never gone away is what’s known as “Celestial Polygamy”. Celestial Polygamy is when a man is widowed by a wife who he was sealed to in the Temple “for time and eternity” and then goes on to also marry one or more wives in the Temple “for time and eternity”. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

Though the LDS Church had disavowed polygamy, it is still enshrined in Mormon scripture (Doctrine & Covenants 132) and some believe it will one day be re-established, if not on Earth, at least in heaven. In his quasi-official 1966 book Mormon Doctrine, which remains in print, the late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote that ‘the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming and the ushering in of the millennium.’ And by policy, men can be ‘sealed’ for eternity in LDS temple rites to more than one wife, though women are permitted only a single sealing. Three of the church’s current apostles, for example, were widowed and remarried. Each will have two wives in the eternities”
(Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Modern-day Mormons disavow polygamy”, Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2008)

At the time that this article was written, three Mormon Apostles qualified as Celestial Polygamists: Dallin H. Oaks, L. Tom Perry, and Russell M. Nelson. All three men are widowers, and all three men have since been “sealed” to a second wife. L. Tom Perry has since died (in 2015), leaving only Oaks and Nelson.

Sadly, this dust-binned version of polygamy still wreaks havoc in Mormon culture as well known Latter-day Saint poet Carol Lynn Pearson found out when she asked active Mormons and Ex-Mormon to talk about how they feel about the subject via a social media survey that she did in March 2014. Pearson claims that on the first day, more than 2,400-people responded, and within four weeks the number had surpassed 8,000 total survey responses which included comments like these:

“I live in constant fear that I will die before my husband and he will be sealed to a second wife, meaning I will live in a polygamous relationship for eternity. I’ve told him if this happens I will choose hell over heaven and he believes me. This is hard on our marriage.”

“A nice Mormon guy hung up the phone when he found I was a sealed widow. He said ‘Why would I want to love someone in this life and then turn her over to her first husband for eternity?—along with the children that came from my very own DNA and now belong to him?’”

“When I was a teenaged boy, I thought it was cool to look forward to lots of sex with my circle of wives in heaven. Now the idea of eternal polygamy disgusts me. No way do I want my wife to feel like I have all of her and she doesn’t have all of me. Crazy stuff, this doctrine.”
(Carol Lynn Pearson official website)

And this is the problem with dust-binned, man-contrived, bad theology, isn’t it? It still leaves carnage in its wake. It leaves a mess. By their fruit, you shall know them indeed.

“Sawdust” photograph by Chris Jordan. This is literally a mountain of sawdust.

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