Why are you grateful to be a member of the Church? Consider making a list of reasons.
Sunday, July 25, 2021
Doctrine and Covenants 84
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Doctrine and Covenants 81-83
DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS 81
Section 81 is given to a counselor to the Prophet as to how to fulfill his duties. One counselor did not do this, and so another was called. Frederick G. Williams, who was a scribe to the prophet already, replaced Jesse Gause and did not ask for a new revelation but simply crossed out the name and inserted his own in the record. He understood the revelation was for the calling and not for an individual.
DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS 82
Section 82 regards the United Firm. For details regarding the United Firm, please see Max H Parkin, "Joseph Smith and the United Firm: The Growth and Decline of the Church's First Master Plan of Business and Finance, Ohio and Missouri, 1832-1834," BYU Studies, Vol. 46, no. 3.
DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS 83--CARE FOR THE WIDOWS AND CHILDREN
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, in addition to the alaws of the church concerning women and children, those who belong to the church, who have blost their husbands or fathers:
2 aWomen have bclaim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their chusbands are taken; and if they are not found transgressors they shall have fellowship in the church.
3 And if they are not faithful they shall not have fellowship in the church; yet they may remain upon their inheritances according to the laws of the land.
4 All achildren have claim upon their bparents for their cmaintenance until they are of age.
5 And after that, they have aclaim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s bstorehouse, if their parents have not wherewith to give them inheritances.
6 And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and awidows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the bpoor. Amen.
This revelation was given in April 30, 1832. Little did the Prophet Joseph know that in 12 years his wife would be counted among the widows and his children among the fatherless. Who would take care of them? Spoiler alert: It wasn't the Church. (The Church, however, did take care of Lucy Mack Smith and financially assist Joseph's sisters for the rest of their lives. For details, click here.)
EMMA'S ESCAPE FROM NAUVOO
When Joseph Smith was killed in June of 1844, he left his wife Emma with four young children and a fifth on the way. The following year, mobs threatened the Saints with death if they did not leave Nauvoo and those who could did so in February of 1846 and throughout the spring. By summertime, only 150 members remained in Nauvoo, mostly the poor or widowed who did not have means to travel. Emma Smith and her family, including most of her in-laws, were in this group. They had no funds, and they had enormous debt. Which parts of the debt and which parts of the property belonged to Emma and which to the Church would not be resolved for over a decade. (See Church History Topics, "Emma Smith")
This is one of those unpleasant episodes in Church history wherein problems were extremely complicated, personalities were necessarily strong, emotions were exceptionally high, trust was unfortunately low, and no one had a template to tell them how to best proceed.
On September 10, 1846, an army of 1,000 local mobsters attacked Nauvoo to drive out the stragglers in what is now called The Battle of Nauvoo. Emma, with her children, ran to the river where "she prevailed upon a friendly riverboat captain to stop at the landing in Nauvoo where she and her family boarded the Toby, to go north to Fulton, Illinois, for refuge. They heard the first volley of shots as the Battle of Nauvoo began as they were leaving" (Gracia Jones, "In Memory of Major Lewis Crum Bidamon," JosephSmithJr.org, August 16, 2020). Bidamon joined the Saints in defending the city. For his bravery, he was afterwards known as "Major" Bidamon.
Newel K. Whitney, as presiding bishop of the Church, was organizing rescue parties from Winter Quarters to emigrate these indigent remainders two weeks before the battle occurred, but they had not yet reached the area. By the time they arrived, Emma Smith was already gone.
The following January, Bidamon wrote to Emma Smith asking if he could rent the Nauvoo House. She wrote back that it was already rented. Shortly afterward, Bidamon became aware that the renter was planning to move out and steal all of Smith's property, so he wrote her again with this information. She reportedly said, "I have no friend but God and nowhere to go but home." She gathered her children and meager belongings and hurried back to Nauvoo, catching the thief in the act and saving her home and furnishings. She reopened the hotel in the almost-deserted Nauvoo. Emma had always had a good head for business and she knew this would be a sure way to both shelter and support her family.
MAJOR LEWIS BIDAMON'S CARE FOR THE SMITH FAMILY
Emma Smith was only 39 years old when she became a widow. She was a beautiful and refined woman who had two suitors after she returned to Nauvoo. Bidamon was the one she chose to marry. The wedding curiously took place on Joseph's birthday, December 23, 1847. Perhaps she wanted a happy memory on that day to replace her deep sorrow. Perhaps it was just the most convenient day for all. Perhaps birthdays were not a big deal in that time. She seldom shared her inner thoughts with others or wrote them down, so we cannot know.
Emma's great-great-granddaughter, Gracia Jones, writes about the legal difficulties facing a single mother in 19th Century America: "Emma’s marriage displeased many of the Saints, particularly the men who had been placed as agents over the Church business in Nauvoo. But, to some extent, her marriage alleviated some of the pressures. One of the interesting aspects of the law at that time was that a widow had to petition the court for guardianship of her children. She not only had to pay for the privilege, she had to account to the court yearly on what she spent to support a minor child." [Is this crazy or what? Women had so few legal rights.] "If a woman remarried, her children became wards of the step-father. With this marriage to Joseph’s widow, Lewis did not gain anything financially, but took upon himself the responsibility of being a father to her children, a role he seems never to have resented nor shirked. They shouldered the burden of debt, court litigation, even the forced sale of the property, more than once. During one of these troubled times, Lewis’ brother Christian Bidamon stepped forward to purchase the property and Emma was enabled to buy it back from him. Visitors to Nauvoo today owe thanks to Major Lewis C. Bidamon for helping Emma preserve the Smith homes, which so many enjoy visiting...
Shortly after the marriage, Bidamon set out to provide for his new family. He and his brother followed the prospectors to California to sell them goods, in an unsuccessful attempt to earn enough to pay off Joseph Smith's debts. During the year they were apart, Lewis and Emma wrote to each other.
Emma: "My dear Lewis, I have scarcely enjoyed any good thing since you left home, in consequence of the terrifying apprehension that you might be suffering for the most common comforts of life...Some think that I might be content, but I am not, neither can I be until you are within my grasp."
Lewis: "I do not like California. It affords no charms for me and especially in the absence of her and only her that can make me happy." (Joni Wilson, "Emma's Enduring Compassion," Nauvoo Journal, May 2013, 72).
PRESERVATION OF MANUSCRIPT
Years later, when Bidamon was building an addition onto the Mansion House, he uncovered the cornerstone in which the original manuscript for The Book of Mormon had been hidden by Joseph Smith. It was damaged by moisture and time, but what was still readable he divided among the various sects of Mormonism. It had no value to him, but he knew it had great value to believers. He gave a portion to Apostle Franklin D. Richards and it stayed in the Richards family until it was donated to the Church in 1946. It is now on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City as well as online at JosephSmithPapers.org (Jones).
BIDAMON AS A FATHER
Although polar-opposite reports were written about the character and aspect of Major Bidamon, depending on the bias of the one doing the reporting, evidence is strong that he was a good man and a good stepfather to Emma's children. He was loved and honored by Emma's boys, who worked by his side in his shop and in the field and whose education he fostered. He had two teenaged daughters from a previous marriage whom Emma and her children welcomed into their home and life. They maintained a loving relationship throughout their lives. Joseph III wrote, "Our stepfather is as good as a stepfather can be. He loves us all as well as he does his own children" (Wilson, 73).
Major Bidamon (seated left) with his four stepsons: Frederick and David, standing; Alexander and Joseph III, seated. (JosephSmithJr.org)
Perhaps no report is as telling, however, as the kindness Lewis Bidamon extended to his wife's first husband's mother, Lucy. Three years into their marriage, Emma brought Lucy into the Mansion House to care for her. She had been previously living with her daughter Lucy and her husband, but they moved east and Emma agreed to take over. She and Emma had a close relationship and great admiration for each other. Emma and Lewis cared for Lucy for the last four years of her life (Wilson, 74).
BIDAMON AS A CITIZEN
Major Bidamon was what we might call a "character," attracting attention through his fun-loving attitude and his love of conversation. He served as a justice of the peace and an assistant constable.
"In his later years, Major Bidamon became a favorite with reporters passing through Nauvoo. He was always good natured, cordial, full of jokes and entertaining stories. He never allowed anyone in his hearing to get away with disparaging words about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Though he was not religious and sometimes rather roughly irreligious, he defended the Mormon’s right to believe what they chose and did all he could to defend Nauvoo" (Jones). He knew that his wife believed Joseph Smith and he respected that. He was beloved by his children, and he adored his grandchildren as well as Emma's and Nancy's, who trailed after him as he worked about the place, and to whom he never spoke a harsh word.
At his death, Bidamon's obituary stated, "Deceased was probably best known in the city, he became widely known to the general public, as the husband of Joseph Smith’s widow and the visits of all noted people, newspaper corrospondence, authors, etc., was never complete without paying a visit to the Major and the old mansion house; and all writer’s account of Nauvoo invariably gave an elaborate write up of him. He was good natured, humorous and a jocular character and he scarely let a visitor go without first telling him of his “red hat” and “dark closet” jokes – Jokes that have become famous" (JosephSmithJr.org). (Makes you want to know those jokes, doesn't it?)
Bidamon was buried by Emma, Joseph, and Hyrum Smith, but sadly his grave was never marked until 2016.
EMMA'S CARE FOR WIDOWS AND CHILDREN
Emma Smith Bidamon was widely known for her kindness in taking care of outcasts and orphans. Sometime I'd like to compose a list of them; there are so many. She did not descriminate by race, either, taking the entire family of Jane Manning James into her home while Joseph was still alive, and keeping Jane on after all the others found new situations. But of all the acts of compassion which Emma performed in her life, the most stunning involved Nancy Abercrombie.
Lewis Bidamon had an extra-marital affair with Nancy which resulted in the birth of a son, Charles Edward, in 1864. (One source says he was called "Charlie," another "Eddie." I'm going with Eddie.) Eddie's mother had lived a challenging life. Apprenticed as a seamstress away from her own family at the tender age of 7, she had been married at 17 to a man who died or disappeared after the birth of her first child, married to a second man who died after the birth of her second child, and was living with a family near Nauvoo years later when she gave birth to a third child whose father was not revealed. Her fourth child was Eddie. When Eddie was 4 years old, Nancy was unable to care for him any longer and appealed to Emma. Without rancor, 64-year-old Emma accepted him into her own home. He called her Grandmother.
Four years later, in an almost unbelievable act of charity, Emma hired Nancy as a housekeeper to allow her to live with her now 8-year-old son. (Two of Nancy's children were by this time adults, and it is not known where the third lived.) Emma was 68, Lewis was 66, Nancy was 39. As Emma neared the end of her life, she asked Lewis to promise to marry Nancy and legitimize Eddie's family relationship, which he did one year after she died.
Still image of Eddie and Emma from the wonderful feature film, "Emma Smith: My Story,"
JosephSmithJr.orgAfter her death, Eddie recalled Emma as "a person of even temper. I never heard her say an unkind word, or raise her voice in anger or contention...a noble woman, living and showing charity for all, loving and beloved" (Wilson, 75-76).
As was taught by the brother of the Lord,
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
Note that care for the fatherless and widows is mentioned first, and keeping oneself holy is mentioned second. We cannot be truly unspotted from the world without living in that messy and muddy world and reaching out to those to whom it has dealt harsh blows. Lewis and Emma Bidamon did so, even though life had also dealt hard blows to them. Major Bidamon defended women and children in battle and took on a young family of six plus mother-in-law, including all their debts, legal battles, and negative press. He defended Joseph Smith's name, though he had never met the man. As for Emma, she had experienced a life of trauma and loss, but still she kept the commandment to love whomever was placed in her path.
Sunday, July 11, 2021
Doctrine and Covenants 77-80
SECTION 78: THE UNITED FIRM
For more details on Section 78, The United Firm, and other historical events relating to these sections, please refer to a great source I just discovered: BYU Studies, a scholarly journal, has prepared links to pertinent previously-published articles for each "Come, Follow Me" lesson. Access them here.
SECTIONS 79-80 EARLY MISSIONARIES
It was standard in the early restored Church that men who joined the Church became missionaries almost immediately, even as they were learning the gospel themselves. Women also shared the gospel in their families and with their neighbors, but the "sister missionary" was still a thing of the future. In fact, becoming a member of the Church was basically a mission call in itself, a call to share the gospel with others. This orientation helped to grow the Church at a phenomonal pace.
Doctrine and Covenants 79 and 80 are mission calls. It's interesting how these two sections are so similar and yet, in one aspect, completely different.
1 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that my servant Jared Carter should go again into the eastern countries, from place to place, and from city to city, in the power of the aordination wherewith he has been ordained, proclaiming glad tidings of great joy, even the beverlasting gospel.
2 And I will send upon him the aComforter, which shall teach him the truth and the bway whither he shall go;
3 And inasmuch as he is faithful, I will crown him again with asheaves.
4 Wherefore, let your heart be glad, my servant Jared Carter, and afear not, saith your Lord, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant aStephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every bcreature that cometh under the sound of your voice.
2 And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant aEden Smith.
3 Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.
4 Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and aknow to be true.
5 Behold, this is the will of him who hath acalled you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
JARED CARTER AND STEPHEN BURNETT
Jared Carter had just come from a mission to his home town and was called to go right back there in Section 79. His call was very specific. Stephen Burnett's call, however, was completely general. He could go wherever he saw fit "for ye cannot go amiss." He was only 18 and he and Eden Smith went east to New Hampshire. Levi B. Wilder wrote in a letter, "A small church was formed in [Dalton, New Hampshire] in the July of 1833, consisting of 15 members: brother Stephen Burnet was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlastIng gospel in this place" (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 39-40).
Jared Carter went back to New York. He taught and baptized his brother-in-law Ira Ames who happened to be visiting in Benson, as mentioned in a previous post, and another 30-something people, for a total between the two missions of 79. (Brother Carter kept a detailed mission journal.) One of the people he taught on this second mission was a huge financial boon to the struggling Church: John Tanner. His story is told in a Church film posted in a September lesson on the "Come, Follow Me" website, but if you want to view it now, here is the link: Treasure in Heaven.
I suspect calls to service in the Lord's kingdom today follow both of these patterns. Sometimes there is something specific the Lord calls us to do, sometimes we get to choose. In both circumstances our consecrated service is acceptable and can be very productive and rewarding.
THE FIRST BLACK MEMBER AND MISSIONARY: PETE
Since there is so much focus on recognizing Black contributions in history this year, at least in the United States, I would like to highlight early Black members of the Church. We have to step back to 1830 when the gospel first came to Kirtland to find the Church's first Black convert/missionary, Black Pete.
The core of the new Kirtland Church in 1830 was the communal group centered at the Morley farm. This group had been trying to live with "all things common," after the example of the primitive Church in the New Testament. They called themselves "The Family."
As we read Church history, we must always keep in mind that there is no way we can fully understand it without having lived it. "History is a foreign land," but like all foreign lands, it is a fascinating place to visit.
The rapidity at which new members became leaders led to some interesting combinations of former religious practices with new religious truths. One thing these members were looking for in a restored church was the gifts of the Spirit. These members read of the conversion of King Lamoni, the great Lamanite king in the Book of Mormon. Lamoni had a profound spiritual experience that left him in a sort of trance or coma on the floor for days, after which he arose and taught the gospel. Isaac Morley, the "father" of The Family, was so taken by the story of this king that he named one of his sons Lamoni.
These early Saints had the feeling that Blacks and Natives Americans were somehow connected, and the "slave shout tradition" felt similar to the spiritual experiences noted in the Book of Mormon. The Family did not have any Native American members and most had never met one since Natives had already been forced from the area, but they did have Black Pete. (See Mark L. Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Kirtland Revelations, Kindle edition, 77)
"Peter Kerr, a formerly enslaved person, was living in Ohio when missionaries began preaching in the area. He had been freed through the will of his master, John Kerr, but stopped using his master’s name upon obtaining freedom and became known as 'Black Pete.' Pete joined Sidney Rigdon’s congregation and often stayed in the home of Newel K. Whitney. Like most members of Rigdon’s congregation, Pete was baptized a member of the Church after listening to missionaries in the fall of 1830, making him the first known black member of the Church.
"Among some early Saints, he was considered a leader and a revelator. He integrated his newfound faith into his existing religious worldview, which combined traditions of Christianity, African religions, and Islam (the religion practiced by his mother). Some evidence suggests that he manifested the gift of tongues" ("Black Members of the Church Research Guide: United States," ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
"After the departure of the initial [four] missionaries [who had come to Kirtland, Ohio], new converts had little concrete information to rely on in defining their new faith. Nor could they rely heavily on the Book of Mormon. Few copies of the book were available...With thousands interested in their message the need for missionaries to carry every copy of the book on their backs as they walked from New York to Missouri, there clearly were not enough copies to go around" (Staker, 74-75)
The young people of the new Church were particularly drawn to Black Pete. He was exotic and exciting and charismatic. Three young men in particular became his close friends and they taught the gospel together: Edson Fuller, Herman [also Heman] Bassett, and Burr Riggs. Black Pete was recognized in a newspaper article as the leader of the group. These young men tried to replicate the ecstatic spiritual experiences of King Lamoni, falling on the ground as if overcome by the Spirit. Some members (especially the teenagers) admired and emulated them; older people were repulsed by their behavior. Everyone was a little bit confused about how the Spirit worked. Remember: These people had never met Joseph Smith, the Church didn't even have a name yet, and there wasn't any sort of ecclesiastical authority. Everyone was just feeling it out, using their former religious practices (Black Pete's being African slave and Muslim traditions) as their starting spot.
Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland the first week of February 1831. Then the Lord called the first bishop (Edward Partridge) and put forth the Law of the Church (Sections 41-42). It was then finally understood that one had to be called and ordained by authority to preach the gospel, which put an end to Pete's "mission." The wildest of the ecstatic spiritual practices were revealed to come from darkness rather than light. And, by the way, the revelation included the direction that "every family shall have place that they may live by themselves" (although this was not included in the canon), dissolving "The Family" commune. The nuclear family became the foundation of the religious community (Staker, 108). Black Pete then disappears from the record, but it's important to know that he was a part of the early Church in Kirtland and was admired and accepted by many.
You can listen to an interview with Dr. Mark Staker of the Church History Department speaking about Black Pete and the early ecstatic Church practices here.
THE FIRST BLACK ORDAINED MISSIONARY: ELIJAH ABLE (also ABLES--he signed his name both ways)The first documented Black priesthood holder and one of my personal heros of Church history, Elijah Able, joined the Church in 1832. He was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood in 1836, received his temple washings and annointings in Kirtland, performed proxy baptisms for his dead mother and daughter, was a local congregation leader, was ordained a member of the seventy, served several missions, and died in his 70s just after serving the last one.
"Hunted by mobs, criticized by fellow Mormons, and denied temple [endowment and sealing] privileges by two priesthood leaders, Ables seldom received the welcoming hand of friendship.
"But Ables did not leave. He accommodated, waited, and occasionally pushed back. He ignored the snipings of critics, extended his hand to Mormonism's avowed enemies, and helped a large body of saints escape from a war zone" (Russell Stevenson, "'A Negro Preacher': The Worlds of Elijah Ables," Journal of Mormon History, University of Illinois Press: Mormon History Association, Spring 2013, Vol. 39, no. 2, 166, available on JSTOR).
And yet, Danor Gerald, the actor who portrays Elder Ables in a Church History Museum video, points out, "We were more progressive than any other church at the time, if you really think about it. Elijah Ables represents a progressive movement to allow a person of African descent to hold the priesthood and to be basically equal with white clergymen in that organization. Nobody was doing that at that time!" (Russell Stevenson and Danor Gerald, Mormon History Guy Podcast #16, June 21, 2016).
To be such an outlier as Elijah Able and his wife were, to live in such a white church during such a racist time, and to stay: That is faith.
For another story about Elijah Able and his convert Eunice Franklin, see Saints, Vol. 1, 317-319.
To read my personal take on Blacks and the priesthood, please refer to Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #42 from 2009.