Endowed with Power

France Paris Notre-Dame-Adam and Eve

The Temptation of Adam and Eve, bas relief, Notre Dame

This week as I attended the temple, I realized I failed to include in my Faithful Joseph series any description about the introduction of the temple ceremonies.

Members of the LDS Church don’t talk much about what happens in the temple. As is often said, we regard these things as sacred. I submit at the time the endowment was introduced there was also a need for secrecy, since it was not known who was true and who was traitor.

The ceremonies of the temple involve preparation to become servants of God. The instructions given and covenants made in the temple are towards this end of preparing individuals for eternal life.

As discussed in the Bible and argued by Jesus in John 10: 34-38, the Jewish law taught that mortals could become gods. 1 The purpose of the temple would be to allow individuals to enter into those covenants and perform those ordinances that would prepare them to becomes the gods the Bible speaks of, holy beings who serve God, the Father of all. These individuals would, if faithful, reign and minister in God’s heaven.

The instructions form a basis for understanding God’s work and salvation: our existence before mortality, the fall of Adam and Eve, the purpose of our mortal lives, the reality of resurrection after this life, and the possibility of returning to live with God in his kingdom. 2

Environment in which the Endowment was Introduced

Had Joseph lived in calm times, it seems reasonable that he would have introduced the temple instruction and ritual in advance of the formal opening of the temple, to train those who would be administering the ritual to the rest of the congregants partaking of the rituals.

But Joseph did not live in calm times. He would not live to see completion of the Nauvoo temple, where the endowment would be introduced “openly” to the faithful.

In 1842, Joseph and others were trying to uncover a ring of sexual predators, as discussed in my post Hunt in the City Beautiful. By April several women had been denied entrance into the prestigious Relief Society based on accusations regarding their activities. There is no record of what Emma and Joseph had learned from talking with these women.

On May 4, 1842, Joseph and Hyrum Smith gathered eight trusted men and introduced them to the endowment ceremony. The men were James Adams, William Law, William Marks, George Miller, Brigham Young, Newel K. Whitney, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards. 3 If is interesting to note that all three men who had reported to Joseph regarding John C. Bennett’s past are included in this initial group (George Miller, Hyrum Smith, and William Law). The endowment was not to be discussed with outsiders. Specifically, the teachings regarding Christian duty and morality were in stark contrast to the spiritual wifery being taught and practiced in Nauvoo, the illicit sexual liaisons Joseph was attempting to uncover and root out in May 1842.

Three days later, on May 7, 1842, a mock battle was staged. During this battle, John C. Bennett tried to persuade Joseph to take a prominent role. When this failed, John suggested Joseph take a position in the rear without his guard. Joseph again declined and stationed himself in a position of his choosing next to one of his bodyguards. Joseph and others would later report that they believed an attempt on his life had been planned to occur during  the mock battle. 4

Before the month of May had expired, several women came forward and testified before the Nauvoo High Council regarding the men who had seduced them, as discussed in my post Arraigning the Band of Brothers.

Thus the endowment, when first introduced, was not just preparing the participants to become rulers in some future heaven, but was a mechanism to bind participants together in strict loyalty and moral probity in a time when illicit sexuality and murder were afoot.

Fate of the Initial members of the Anointed Quorum

A comparison of the men who were involved in the introduction of the endowment yields interesting insights.

Newel K. Whitney and Heber C. Kimball would both be sealed to their legal spouses before May 1843, 5 the only two couples to receive this ordinance before Joseph was sealed to his own wife, Emma. In each case, the sealing was predicated on an unusually faithful act related to the introduction of plural marriage.

James Adams would be the first man to be sealed to his legal wife after Emma and Joseph, on the same day as the sealing between Emma and Joseph, on 28 May 1843.

Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, and Willard Richards would each be sealed to their civil wife the following day, 29 May 1843. Brigham Young had been one of Joseph’s early confidants regarding plural marriage, and in 1842 had taken in twenty year old Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley], a mother of three children who had been abandoned by her abusive, alcoholic husband. Willard Richards appears to have been one of Joseph’s confidants regarding plural marriage, based on his care for Marinda Johnson [Hyde] during the initial months of 1842.

William Marks, George Miller, and William Law were not sealed to their civil wives. I suspect these three were not informed in May 1843 that such sealings were possible. I infer Joseph was not certain of the loyalty of these three.

In fall of 1843, Hyrum shared the revelation regarding marriage (and plural marriage) with William Law. It is not possible to determine if Hyrum did this on his own initiative or if he had consulted Joseph first. When William and Jane Law requested the privilege of being sealed to one another, Joseph refused. According to various accounts, Joseph had determined that William was guilty of adultery, and thus was not worthy to receive the blessing of being sealed to his wife. William Law went on to plot Joseph’s death, details of the plot only becoming known because people were willing to risk their lives. 6

Summary

Any discussion of temple ordinances by active members of the Church will necessarily be curtailed. Those who know of what they speak have taken vows to respect the sacred nature of these things. Any who therefore discuss these sacred things in detail are either uninformed or oath breakers. 7

But it betrays no secrets to explain that members of the LDS Church believe the sealing of a marriage in the temple is an extremely important ordinance. Nor is it betraying sacred mysteries to confirm that sexual relations outside the bounds of a legal marriage are considered inappropriate and sinful.

As I reviewed the teachings regarding marriage and sexual fidelity presented in the temple, I could not help but reflect on the environment in which Joseph introduced these teachings, where high Church leaders such as John C. Bennett and William Smith 8 would be found to be involved in the illicit sexuality of spiritual wifery.

Notes:

  1. Psalms 82: 6.
  2. See Endowed from On High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 1: The Temple Teaches about the Great Plan of Salvation, available online at lds.org, retrieved 18 August 2014.
  3. Devery S. Anderson, The Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo, 1842-45, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137-157.
  4. History of the Church, 5:4; B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 2:140–41.
  5. Newel K. Whitney was sealed to his wife, Elizabeth, on August 21, 1842. The date of the sealing between Heber C. Kimball and his wife Vilate is uncertain, but the sealing occurred before May 1843.
  6. The history of these interactions between Joseph and William Law are documented in my earlier post, Conferring the Mantle. There are conflicting reports regarding what happened between Joseph and William. I choose to believe that only one reality actually occurred, and I choose to believe the accounts of Joseph and his friends and only those other reports consistent with the reality inferred from Joseph and his friends.
  7. The standard for what may and may not appropriately be discussed can be inferred from authorized works by LDS Church authorities, such as Boyd K. Packer’s book, The Holy Temple, or the Church’s temple preparation manual, cited earlier in this post.
  8. The testimony of Catherine Laur Fuller Warren would assert that William had sought to lay with her and had asked her to become his particular spiritual wife. However none of the extant testimony actually documents that William succeeded in practicing spiritual wifery.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

8 thoughts on “Endowed with Power

  1. “Any who therefore discuss these sacred things in detail are either uninformed or oath breakers.”

    Apparently inclusion of a statement like this is a great way to make sure no one posts comments…

  2. It does indeed, Meg. Most tend to respect limitations on what to discuss about the Temple, even if they don’t believe the limitations are as strict as some interpret them to be.

    Me, I’m good with keeping the parts specifically covenanted as “not to reveal”, and discussing all other parts in respectful conversation. Even better if it is in a private setting, where those involved can feel free to share their feelings and inspirations on the subject.

    Nice addition to the series. I hope we get a few more asides.

  3. Thanks for the great series. Really hope it does become a book. It has led to a lot of great discussions this weekend with my parents and siblings. I think your analysis is absolutely correct and something we often struggle as members to understand. Joseph was fighting against some pretty major issues like infidelity, abuse of power, and plotting to murder him. It’s hard for us to even fathom. I have had the opportunity to be part of several successful startups and I made the correlation tonight reading this that all of those start ups as they grew quickly, experienced success and gained notoriety attracted people with malicious intentions who wanted to join the winning team only for selfish reasons. I think Joseph experienced a lot more of that than we think. The church was growing so fast it scared local citizens into creating mobs and motivated others to try and take advantage of that growth for their own gain.

  4. Hi Jay,

    I love the mental image of your parents and siblings actively discussing this…

    Closer to home, I’m always intrigued when I become aware that a sibling or ward-member has tumbled across what I’ve written.

    I had a sweet conversation with someone who mentioned reading my post about the song Families Can Be Together Forever. I had modified select words to expand the group of people who can sing that song without mental discomfort. Anyway, the friend shared something about their background and the pain they had experienced because of having a family that, by certain measures, was not the ideal projected in the song as written. I never would have known about this past, because it isn’t the kind of thing you tell random people, even random friends.

    A sibling suggested an aspect of the book that maps out the relationships or at least makes it so you can flip to some portion of the book to find out who’s who. Kind of like the list of characters in a play bill. Many of the people involved in Joseph’s Nauvoo period are etched into my soul, so I know their dates and particulars, and at request can list off the ten or twenty facts that persuade me they were either on Team Joseph or Team Bennett. But that’s in my head, and is not always immediately obvious, even from reading these posts.

  5. So am I allowed to discuss Job and Isaiah? Moses and Abraham? Can I discuss the portions of the Masonic rites that are found in publicly available texts? Lehi’s Dream? 2 Nephi 31? 1 Peter? The Hymn of the Pearl? The Popol Vuh?

    Or is even mentioning those things not allowed because as far as I can tell only part of Moses and Abraham is mentioned in any of the churches material on temples?

  6. You are the arbiter of what can be appropriately discussed. In this post, I chose to draw the line on the conservative side and make a point about the requested privacy, because I didn’t want my observation about William Law, George Miller, and William Marks to turn into a rambling discussion of temple ordinances generally.

    As for publicly available texts, I would just observe that the mere fact that someone has posted something on the internet doesn’t make it either true or appropriately “public information.” So obviously anything written in canonized scripture is open for discussion, but I am not as familiar with the way members of other communities view the publicly available portions of their liturgy and rites that may be available on the internet or in published books, so would hate to imply carte blanche for you to use these.

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