Sunday, July 25, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 84

 Why are you grateful to be a member of the Church? Consider making a list of reasons.

Which of these blessings would be possible without priesthood? The answer, of course, is none. 

Doctrine and Covenants 84, called "The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood," is relevant to all members of the Church, not just those who have been ordained. Currently, men are what we might call active priesthood holders, responsible for the administration of ordinances and governance of the Church; outside temple ordinances, women are in a passive priesthood role (for lack of a better word). But all of the good works and administrations of Church members are done through the power of godliness, or the priesthood. The roles of men and women are different, but all are members of the same priesthood team, functioning under the umbrella of its power and authority. Therefore all the principles for exercise of the priesthood must also be applied by women as they carry out their roles as family members, teachers, and sisters in Zion. Notice: the word "ordain" is not found anywhere in D&C 84--the word used is "obtain," which applies equally to men and women.

Elder Carlos E. Asay said, “Of all the holy agreements pertaining to the gospel of Jesus Christ, few, if any, would transcend in importance the oath and covenant of the priesthood" (General Conference Address, October 1985).

D&C 84:33-44 reads: 

"For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

"And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

"And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.

"But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

"And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you.

"And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.

"For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God."

Principles for Using the Priesthood: The Example of John Murdock

I love learning about unsung heroes of the Restoration. One of those is John Murdock. Although most of us know that Joseph and Emma Smith adopted twin babies whose mother had died, very few of us know much about their birth father, what he did, what he thought, how he felt.  I decided to read his biography, and found his life very inspiring.  From his journals, I find the example of a man who, through troubles and trials, magnified his priesthood.

"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father. And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world" (D&C 84:45-48).

Brother Murdock searched for and recognized the true Church: 

"Through considerable religious exploration, John had developed some essential points to which a religion must subscribe: First, baptism must be by immersion and a proper candidate for baptism must be one who has faith that Jesus Christ died for our sins—therefore infant baptism was not proper; second, because current churches had lost all authority, 'the Lord must either send an angel to baptize the first man, or he must give special command to some one man to baptize another;' third, the Holy Spirit must attend the 'ministration' of the ordinances" (S. Reed Murdock, John Murdock: His Life and Legacy, Summerwood Publishers, 54).

He was staying on the Morley farm with the communal "Family" that was trying to live with all things common when the missionaries came to Kirtland. He was introduced to the Book of Mormon after other Family members had heard them speak.

“I read [the Book of Mormon] till it was late and went into father Morley’s chamber to bed and had not been long in bed, before [the Family] returned [from a meeting confirming new members], and some half dozen or more came into the same house, and as soon as they came into the house, although I was in bed…the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, witnessing to me the truth of the work” (Murdock, 58).

John and his wife, Julia Clapp Murdock, had three small children and had endured the death of an infant. In 1831 their twins were born and Julia died delivering them.  

"Late in his life, John revealed his real feelings in a letter to his daughter Julia: 'The anguish of soul that I felt at this time you may try to imagine. I was bereft of a tender companion, a feeling mother, a good housekeeper and one that I love and yet love the memory of her.' John’s letter describes that the twins were born without any 'great agony or pain to the mother' and all appeared to be in order when Julia called for John and told him she was going. She shook hands with John and all in the room and then quietly died. 'She took me by the hand and bid me farewell and also all in the room and folded her arms acrost her breast peacably and sweetly went to sleep in Jesus in hope of a glorius resurrection' (Murdock, 68).
Of necessity, children in such situations in those days were often placed in other families since there was no such thing as daycare.  The newborns, of course, needed a lactating mother to survive.  So the twins were placed with the Smiths, and Orrice, 7, John R., 5, and Phebe, 3, were placed with other families.  Brother Murdock paid for their keep as he left on the mission he was called to in D&C 52. 

“And these signs shall follow them that believe— In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick" (D&C 84:65-68).

John Murdock and Parley P. Pratt were mission companions.

"After Parley and John left St. Louis, they experienced sore trials. Parley was so sick he could not go on; he lay down in the prairie. John spoke to Parley: 'I said Bro. P. Can you travel any further, said ‘he could not. I asked Do you believe the Son will heal you? He said the Son would heal him according to his Faith but "my faith is small." I said do you want me to lay hands on you? He said, ‘yes.’ I fell on my knees and with many tears laid my hands on him in the name of the Lord Jesus, and prayed for him and we both arose and traveled and gave glory to God for his goodness and Bro. P. gained health and strength from that time'” (Murdock, 87).

While on the mission, baby Joseph died in the care of the Smiths. Between missions Brother Murdock likely boarded with the families keeping his children. He boarded with the Smiths for a short time, while attending the School of the Prophets. Julia was not yet two. He did not reveal his identity to her. She was five years old before she learned that she was adopted.

"And now, verily I say unto you, that it is not expedient that you should go until your children are provided for, and sent up kindly unto the bishop of Zion. And after a few years, if thou desirest of me, thou mayest go up also unto the goodly land, to possess thine inheritance; Otherwise thou shalt continue proclaiming my gospel until thou be taken. Amen" (D&C 99:6-7).

He was called on another mission, but first “kindly placed” his children again.

"The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church— To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant" (D&C 107:18-19).

At this time, Brother Murdock was attending the School of the Prophets, and was privileged to see a vision of the Heavens. 

“We had a number of prayer meetings in the Prophet’s chamber, in which we obtained great blessings. In one of these meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a great silver grey, curled in most majestic form. His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the heel with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love for months, that I never felt before to the degree.” (Murdock, 96-97)

As many of the Saints were gathering to Missouri in the Spring of 1833, Brother Murdock paid a church member $10 each to deliver his children to Bishop Partridge in Zion, who placed each in a different home.

"The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord" (D&C 107:30-31).

While on his second mission, a member named Ezra Landon was openly disputing that Joseph Smith's vision of the three degrees of glory (recorded in D&C 76) was not divine. This vision was quite controversial because it was vastly different from the doctrine of any of the American churches of the day. John and his companions were able to kindly explain the doctrine so that Brother Landon understood and embraced it.

Landon was invited to meet with four of the high priests privately. The meeting was commenced with prayer. Orson Pratt opened the conference, by stating that Brother Landon had said, 'The vision was of the Devil.' Landon responded by saying that he would not have the revelation taught in the church for one thousand dollars. Landon then rose and stressed the sacrifices he had made for the church and the good he had done for the cause. 

"John reminded Brother Landon that there were many who had similarly sacrificed including Ezra Booth, who had suffered privations and hardship, traveled to Missouri and had afterward denied the revelations. Brother Landon was encouraged to repent: 'Bro. Orson led in explanation of the vision…Myself and Bro. Lyman followed….

"'Bro. Landen confessed that he had talked hard to the brethren, asked them for forgiveness, said that he heartily received all that he taught and would teach it to the church, and said he would not for two thousand dollars be set back where he was when we came to him. We allowed him to stand in his office and a good portion of the church met that afternoon and we taught the same things to the church….” (Murdock).

Abuses from the local citizens in Jackson County, Missouri caused Joseph Smith to ask a group of brethren (and a few sisters) to join with him to travel to Missouri to defend the members there and fight for their rights. John Murdock joined the Zion’s Camp march straight from the mission field. 

Upon their arrival in Jackson County, cholera broke out among the camp. The members in the two homes nearest the camps took in the sick, although the disease was deadly and extremely contagious. One of those homes was A. Sidney Gilbert’s. Sidney Gilbert was one of the few men in the Church older than John Murdock, Sidney being 43 and John 40. Sidney and his wife were childless but had taken on the care of three motherless children: Mary Elizabeth and Catherine Rollins who were their nieces. These girls would later save the pages of the Book of Commandments. The other child was John’s own little girl, Phebe, now 6. Sidney got sick and little Phebe also caught the disease. She had the comfort of her own father's care as she suffered for six days and then died on July 6th. 

"The Spirit left the body at the break of day…Two young brethren namely Reid Peck & Henry C. Rawlings assisted me and we buried her a little after sunrise in the morning. She was decently laid out, and they dug a grave and we laid two split shakes [large shingles] in the bottom and each side and laid in some straw, and laid the corpse on it, laid two sticks across and covered it over, and that was her coffin" (Murdock, 126).

John remarried in 1836. He and his new wife, Amoranda Turner, gathered his two boys home again. They had been so lovingly cared for that they didn't really want to leave the homes they had been placed in for the past several years. Little John R. hardly remembered any other family. Their father worked to build loving family relationships with them. Orrice was 12; John was 10. 

Unfortunately, Amoranda died after only one year of marriage.

John married for a third time in 1838. His third wife, Electa Allen, gave birth to three children, two boys, Gideon and Hyrum, and a baby girl who died.

"Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven" (D&C 121:45).

During this year of violence and danger in Jackson County, John Murdock’s courage and peaceable demeaner ended a confrontation with a mob. 

“…when we were there [at Adam-Ondi-Ahman] three men, armed with rifles, came on horseback into the road forward of us, and cocked their rifles…the forward one whose name was Elijah Frost, cried out ‘Damn you who are you and where are you going?’ 

"Said I ‘Who are you and where are you going?’ 

"And I discovered they were Ruffians and as there was three of them and two of us, I thought we would not give up so easy and put my hand to my pistol, but at the same time discovered more of the same company, coming over the ridge. I did not draw my pistol, and they soon were all round the wagon, and I felt very safe, for the Lord took all fear from me. …

"I said to them ‘gentlemen show me two men among you that shall be traveling the road peaceably on their own business as we were doing, and let them be attacked by three ruffians, as we supposed we were and if they will not defend themselves, I will show you two cowards and scoundrels...’

"I asked him if we could pass peaceable without being ill treated. He said we should. I told him our brethren had the same promise in Jackson Co. and then were driven out the next day at the point of the sword and bayonet. 

"They then with one consent cried out ‘Damn you’ and cocked their rifles…

"I surrendered my pistol and Bro. Rufus his rifle and Frost wished us well & wanted to shake hands with me. I did so, and told him before he could do well, he must repent…

"...They again cried out ‘damn you we do not repent,' again cocked their rifles, but after a little uncocked them, and I said to them 'gentlemen if you are done with me, and have no further business with me, I want you to open up right and left, and give me room to drive for I will neither drive through you, or around you.' And they opened up right and left and I drove off on a walk…”

John endured the death of his third wife! He was now living in Nauvoo.

At the age of 54, John married his fourth wife, Sarah Zufelt, and adopted her little boy, George. He was called as Bishop in Nauvoo.

September 19, 1846
The Saints had been cast out of Nauvoo, and the Murdock family with them. While camped at Winter Quarters, the youngest Murdock, little 2-year-old Hyrum (child of Electa) died and was buried with a cottonwood log for a coffin. The Murdocks took in two little orphan girls whose parents also had died there.

The oldest Murdock sons, John R. and Orrice, both joined the Mormon Battalion. The rest of the family traveled to Salt Lake Valley in the second wagon train. Six-year-old Gideon drove the family’s second wagon the entire way. (This same little boy was assigned to stand guard against Indians in Utah when he was 13, armed with a very heavily loaded musket. He later said, “I did not know which I was most afraid of: the gun or the Indians” (Murdock, 324). 

Nineteen wards were established upon arrival at the Valley. John was called as bishop of the 14th ward.

As John R. and Orrice both married, Father John & his fourth wife Sarah had a new baby, Brigham Young Murdock.  This numbered 13 children for John: 10 biological, two adopted (Sarah’s George and a little girl named Mary Cooper) and one foster child (Martha Henderson).  

"For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies" (D&C 84:33).

On February 20, 1835 John Murdock had received his Patriarchal Blessing at the hands of Joseph Smith, Sr. It stated “…thy Children shall be blessed of the Lord, and the Holy Priesthood, after the holy order of God shall be established with thy children, and thy children’s children unto the end of the earth…thou shalt have power to bring souls unto Jesus, by proclaiming the gospel till the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, in power and glory…” (Murdock, 135) It was not a blessing of long life on earth for most of his children, however: Orrice, John R., Julia Smith, Gideon, and George are the only ones known to survive childhood, and George only lived to be 35.

John Murdock magnified his callings outlined in the blessing.  He always loved being a missionary and requested a call to serve once again before he was too old and infirm. He’d had bad health his whole adult life. He was called as one of the first full-time missionaries to Australia, and President of the mission there. 

A month after his return, he was called as a patriarch, in which capacity he served for 13 years.

John married a fifth wife in an attempt to live polygamy, but she hated being in their household and would never move in, although she would come over and help.  After 2-1/2 years, the marriage was dissolved.  John never stated any animosity whatsoever toward this wife. Polygamy was hard.

In 1859 John wrote a letter to his daughter Julia, who was living back in Illinois with her adoptive mother, Emma Smith, no longer a member of the Church.  He share with her his conversion story and testimony of the gospel, as well as his reason for placing her with the Smiths.

John Murdock died at age 79, two days before Christmas.  

“John’s life became the gospel of Jesus Christ and if there were a single word to capture the core of his relationship to the gospel, it would be ‘constant.’  From start to finish, John stayed true to the faith, he persevered to the end of his mortal ability to do so. (Murdock, 329).  

Hundreds of thousands of people today are members of the Church because of the missionary labors of John Murdock and of his children.

His Posterity
In the posterity of John Murdock, we see the blessing fulfilled which the Lord promised to those who honor their priesthood. His three biological sons were great contributors to the building of the Kingdom.  Besides serving in the Mormon Battalion, John R. helped rescue the Martin and Willie handcart companies and became a great philanthropist when he became wealthy.  Orrice and John R. both sheltered and raised others’ children during times of trial, as had been done for them.  They shared a great brotherhood their entire lives.  When John R. died at age 87, Orrice, then 89, held his hand in his casket, with tears running down his face.  He died within two years.

Gideon, who was only six when his brothers joined the Mormon Battalion, became a bishop and a sheriff and a temple worker.  He was well-known for his lengthy prayers.  “When Uncle Gideon would come for dinner, the hostess would not put the potatoes on to cook until it was time for Gideon to say the blessing on the food.  When Gideon was through with the blessing, the potatoes would be done as well.”

These three sons stood by their father and helped him, taking him into their homes in his old age.  On the day of his death, Orrice wrote in his journal, “My father departed this life.  He had born the heat and burden of the day.  He has gone to reap the reward of a righteous man.”  

May we all (both men and women) keep the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and bear the heat and burden of the day, remaining constant to the gospel cause as did John Murdock.

Order of the Restoration of the Priesthood and its Offices
See Bill Beardall’s excellent  Gospel Doctrine Class website for all the details on how the restoration occurred, physically and temporally.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 81-83


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.


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.


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:

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.

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.

All achildren have claim upon their bparents for their cmaintenance until they are of age.

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.

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.)


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. 

Battle of Nauvoo, by C.C.A. Christensen (


Lewis Crum Bidamon had moved to Nauvoo earlier that year to take advantage of the low prices on property being sold by the departing Saints. The place was still very dangerous, however, with mobs attacking citizens. He had petitioned the governor to protect the city, but to no avail. The governor said he was tired of the problems in Nauvoo. Bidamon tried negotiating with the camp of the mob soldiers on behalf of the women, children, sick, and elderly left behind by the Saints. He was told they would throw the women and their children in the Mississippi River and they tried to get him to join up. He was sickened by their heartless cruelty. 

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,", 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.

Nauvoo Mansion House, late 19th Century


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).


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 (Jones).


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. (

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).


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" ( (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 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,"

After 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).

Charles Edward Bidamon


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


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


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. 

Section 79:

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.

And I will send upon him the aComforter, which shall teach him the truth and the bway whither he shall go;

And inasmuch as he is faithful, I will crown him again with asheaves.

Wherefore, let your heart be glad, my servant Jared Carter, and afear not, saith your Lord, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

Section 80: 

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.

And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant aEden Smith.

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.

Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and aknow to be true.

Behold, this is the will of him who hath acalled you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.


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. 


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,"

"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 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.

50 years after hearing the gospel through his missionary efforts, Eunice Franklin wrote about Elder Ables, "I know of no person living that I would be so glad to see as him" (Stevenson, 165).

"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