Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » I Have a Question, 1893

I Have a Question, 1893

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 26, 2009

As with earlier entries in this series, these questions and answers come from the pages of the Juvenile Instructor. Some were taken from articles explicitly signed The Editor — meaning George Q. Cannon — while others appeared in unsigned editorial columns presumably written or at least approved by GQC.

Can an Elder officiate in another ward as an Elder in performing any of the ordinances which belong to the office of an Elder when he has been disfellowshipped in his own ward and his case is on appeal to the High Council?

It would be a very improper thing for a man in that position to officiate in any of the ordinances of the Melchisedek Priesthood, because he is not in good standing, and it is too sacred a matter for any man to act in the Priesthood unless he is fully authorized to do so. It would not be reasonable to expect that the Lord would bless anyone in acting in the Priesthood while in that condition.

Which is proper in fasting: To refrain from eating and drinking, or from eating only?

The rule that has generally been observed in the Church in fasting is to deny one’s self of all nourishment, whether in the shape of food or drink, the object being to humble one’s self before the Lord, and this can be better done when the stomach is entirely empty than when it is partially filled with water, which of itself contains much nourishment.

If a member of the Church should commit suicide because of unrequited love, or other exciting cause, would it be proper for the authorities of the ward to have a public funeral service in such a case as a mark of respect to the family, who may be faithful members of the Church?

Every member of the Church should be made to understand that it is a dreadful sin to take one’s own life. It is self-murder, and, therefore, anyone committing this crime should not expect a public and honorable funeral. There is a wide distinction between the condition of one who dies a natural death and one who dies by his own hand. No one should be led to believe that if he commits this sinful act he will still receive the same respect and honor at his burial from the Priesthood and people of God that others do who die as faithful members of the Church. No encouragement of this kind should be given to anyone who has an inclination to commit suicide. For this reason a person who commits suicide should be buried privately and without ostentation, and certainly the funeral services should be conducted without the authorities of the Church lending their presence to the funeral. All should be taught that it is a sin of great magnitude to take the life which the Creator has given to them.

[Although I’m generally posting the historic Q&A “as is,” leaving commentary to you-all, this one is painful enough that I am prompted to refer concerned readers to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s 1987 Ensign article, “Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not”, and to say that anyone whose life has been touched by the suicide of a friend or loved one understands that this brief 1893 answer is not all that can or should be said.]

Can a Bishop make a decision that will be binding without hearing both sides?

A bishop before making a decision should have his counselors with him, and then they should by all means have both parties represented, or a decision will not be binding. The Prophet Joseph in giving instruction to the High Council on one occasion said he wished his words recorded, and although they were for the High Councils, they are equally applicable for bishops:

“That the council should try no case without both parties being present, or having had an opportunity to be present; neither should they hear one party’s complaint before his case is brought up for trial; neither should they suffer the character of anyone to be exposed before the High Council without the person being present and ready to defend him or herself; that the minds of the Counselors may not be prejudiced for or against anyone whose case they may possibly have to act upon.”

We hear occasionally of some of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are of the opinion that mankind have more probations than one on the earth, and that some men who have lived in this dispensation have figured prominently in other dispensations, and borne names in those dispensations which are well known to us now.

That a belief in reincarnation should prevail among the Latter-day Saints seems strange; for there is nothing in the gospel, as taught in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, or in the teachings of inspired men, that furnishes the least foundation for such a conception. It is true that pre-existence is taught; but the pre-existence in which we believe is confined to our first estate. We are taught that our present life is our second estate, and this is a probation given unto us in which to gain experience and to be tried and purified, to prepare us for our next estate. The teachings of men who have had a deep understanding concerning the purpose of our Great Creator in placing us here in this condition of existence, show that this is the grand opportunity which is given to man – an opportunity which he must not fail to avail himself of, as it is the only opportunity that he will have on the earth, his earthly existence is confined to one appearance in the flesh.

When a child comes forth it possesses a tabernacle. That tabernacle is the house of its spirit, intimately associated with the spirit; separated, it is true, for a time by death, but designed to be re-united in the great hereafter. The Savior says that His disciples looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies to be a bondage. (See Section 45, Doctrine and Covenants.) We are taught that all holy beings look forward with joyful anticipation to the time when their bodies and spirits will be re-united in the resurrection. They do not look forward to reincarnation, or to another birth as a baby, but to the union of their spirits and their bodies – the bodies that they possessed and in which they had passed through all the trials and temptations and vicissitudes incident to a mortal career.

This is the doctrine taught in the gospel; and the doctrine of reincarnation is utterly foreign to every principle which God has revealed in the last days to His Church.

Since the revelation of the gospel to the world through the Prophet Joseph Smith, there has been a great disposition manifested by many people to investigate the oriental religions, and to appropriate from them strange ideas, entirely foreign to those that have been believed in by the people of Christendom. An itching for something new seems to have been the incentive in many instances to adopt strange views and to announce beliefs that are antagonistic to Christianity. Prompted by this feeling numbers have adopted Buddhism and other forms of oriental belief. In this way Satan seeks to divert the children of men from the truth; for although his power is not visible to mortal eyes, yet he exercises it to a wonderful extent, and the children of men are led hither and thither by his influence and the agencies through which he operates. When Latter-day Saints do not escape these false doctrines, how much less likely to resist error are those who do not know the truth as revealed in these days from heaven?

The Latter-day Saints should be warned on these points, and not be carried about by “every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive,” but cling to the simple and plain truth, as God has revealed it and as he teaches it unto those who will receive it; not seeking to dive into mysteries and to adopt strange and startling ideas, but confining themselves to that which God has written cultivating within themselves continually His Holy Spirit, that through it they may be led into all truth.



  1. I thought I saw something recently from a semi-official Church source about fasting and liquids, that explicitly allowed for drinking water. That ring any bells?

    Comment by Ben — June 26, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  2. To go along with your comment on suicide Ardis, one should note that mental illness simply wasn’t understood in the 1890’s. We take for granted that much of who we are and our choices are determined by our brain and recognize that chemical imbalances can significantly change our actions.

    We should look back with some compassion on everyone involved prior to the understanding of modern biology. One wishes the Lord had revealed more on this. (I sometimes halfway wonder if some of the talk of possession in the NT is the Lord trying to communicate that people can act yet not be responsible and perhaps many are more about biology than necessarily a son of perdition being involved)

    Comment by Clark Goble — June 26, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  3. BTW – the address about MMM is quite interesting. I didn’t realize it had been publicly addressed in this fashion let alone this early.

    Someone ought write a paper on this topic along with the political tensions between leaders like Kimball who were favorable to MMM and those like Canon who were not.

    Comment by Clark Goble — June 26, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  4. Michael M. Hobby, before attempting to participate again, please read our comment policy on the “About” page (link at the top of the sidebar). Blasphemy is generally not the most welcome of comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  5. Ben, I do remember that, and tried to find it to link to it when posting this, but couldn’t remember where it was. (Paging Justin … )

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  6. Perhaps it’s the message quoted here.

    Comment by Justin — June 26, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  7. I believe that it was in 1893 that they first started letting family members do temple work for suicides. The case of Helen Mar Whitney Kimball’s son as outlined in her diaries is particularly poignant; and the Church authorities response, was generally quite compassionate, if I remember correctly.

    Here is the bit on Heber J. Grant and water.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 26, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  8. …and Justin beats me to the punch. I should learn never to tempt the master.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 26, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

  9. Yes, this is not all that can be said on the subject of suicide. And it’s gratifying to me that as a society, we now tend to take into account the mental illness of someone who commits suicide when passing moral judgment.

    However, something imbedded in this particular question made me look at the issue in another light, too. Specifically, the question is asked about a suicide that occurred in the throes of some highly emotionally-charged situation. The thought occurred to me that, in the law, we generally take into account the killer’s state of mind, i.e, whether some event caused such rage or terror that they were left without the ability to to objectively evaluate their actions. And that it’s pretty much settled that the severity of a taking of life can be somewhat mitigated by these extenuating circumstances related to the offender’s emotional state. So, too, these extenuating circumstances related to one’s emotional state – and not necessarily related to mental illness – should also play into our understanding of how to evaluate a suicide.

    Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but the question as posed in this Q&A made me think about it from this angle.

    Comment by Hunter — June 26, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  10. Didn’t early leaders of the church teach a doctrine of multiple mortal probations? Does anyone know when and why this became seen as false doctrine?

    Comment by Ariel — June 26, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  11. No, Ariel, church leaders have never taught such a thing. Some proponents of reincarnation, including today’s Harmiston apostates and even some participants in the bloggernacle (which is where you’ve probably run across it) look to ambiguous comments and statements taken out of context, made by some early church leaders who were speculating on just how God the Father became God the Father, to support their heresy.

    GQC appears here to be familiar with the idea only as a perversion of the gospel, not as something that had ever been taught by even some of the leaders.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

  12. We have been taught that the Lord allows all people to have access to some light and truth, just not the fullness of light and truth, and that they will be judged according to that amount of light and truth that they have received. The Church was restored to give us the fullness of the light and truth. If this is correct, then those LDS, who have the fullness of light and truth, choose to follow some other religion, such as Buddhism, etc., are actually regressing. They, however, will be judged according to the fullness of the light and truth they previously received as a member of the LDS Church.

    Comment by Maurine — June 26, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  13. To be fair, there are some fairly unambiguous statements by early Utah Church leaders that espouse some form of mortal incarnation for previously resurrected individuals in certain limited situations. This is not surprisingly controversial and by the time GQC had written this, these ideas were no longer viewed as accurate.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 27, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  14. Dang I had a big comment written and then Safari crashed.

    I’ll just say that while I think most of the idea comes more from Kabbalism and Judaism read back into Mormonism there is more to 19th century views than you suggest Ardis. (The indirect claim about Eliza Snow by her brother, for instance) I find it completely wrong, of course. But I also think it goes well beyond what you suggest. That is more than what certain readings of the A/G theory suggest.

    I know Geoff is a big proponent but it appears primarily based upon ethical concerns and concerns about strong libertarian free will such that a final judgment is even ontologically possible. (i.e. a final judgments suggests an essential character)

    Those attempting proof texts though tend to try and find plural uses of the term “probation” (often in late secondary “recollections” of things Joseph Smith said). They then take the extra step of arguing this entails reincarnation which seems dubious logic at best. After all it can easily be interpreted to mean that everyone after judgment continues to progress and that progression is a new probation but not a new mortal life. (i.e. the rejection that you are immediately exalted at resurrection with no progression or learning or grades)

    Typically talk of MMP tends to conflate lots of different issues though – especially when engaging in proof texts. (IMO)

    Comment by Clark Goble — June 29, 2009 @ 1:12 pm