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Questions from the Grass Roots, 1948 (14)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 09, 2011

The source of these questions and answers can be found in the first installment of this series. It bears repeating for newcomers that the person(s) answering these questions is/are not identified, and that the answers given here are not necessarily current teaching. The chief value of these columns today is in seeing what issues were on the minds of ordinary Church members 60 years ago, and in noting what has changed since then, or what issues we consider modern concerns were being discussed that long ago.

Q. Should non-members coming to sacrament meetings partake of the sacrament or be told not to? – E.M.W., Helper, Utah.

A. Generally it is customary when non-members are known to be present in a sacrament meeting for the bishop or other presiding officer to announce that the sacrament will now be passed to members of the Church. This is done in the mission field as a means of letting the non-members know that the sacrament is designed primarily for those who belong to the Church. Most people of average intelligence understand this anyway because their own churches provide sacrament or communion primarily for the members of the church. However, if some well intentioned person of spiritual mind came to one of our meetings and desired to partake of our sacrament with real intent and with a worshipful attitude, we would not require him to abstain.

Q. Should graves be dedicated by a member of the holy priesthood or can anybody dedicate a grave? – R.V., Preston, Idaho.

A. The person appointed to offer the dedicatory prayer at the graveside should be a worthy man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Melchizedek Priesthood handbook suggests that the dedication of the graves be performed by the authority of the priesthood and in the name of the Savior.

Q. Can any holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood perform a civil marriage? – A.J.B., Cedar City.

A. The handbook of instructions for stake presidents and bishops says on this subject, “presidents of stakes and bishops of wards are the only ones authorized to perform marriage ceremonies outside of the temple. In the absence or disability of one of these his counselor who under the circumstances is the acting presiding authority may officiate. Couples who marry outside of the temple should be informed of this rule and asked as far as possible not to request exceptions to it. However, when circumstances seem to justify a marriage ceremony’s being performed by someone other than the president of the stake or a bishop of a ward, permission to perform the ceremony must be obtained from the First Presidency. Presidents of stakes and bishops of wards do not have the right to delegate this authority. The request for such permission should be submitted to the First Presidency by the stake president or the bishop in behalf of the elder who wishes to perform the ceremony. They should not approve the application of any elder to perform a marriage who is not entitled to a temple recommend. If the request is approved and permission given to an elder of the Church to perform a marriage ceremony, this permission applies only to the one occasion for which it was given. Presidents of independent branches may obtain permission to perform marriage ceremonies from presidents of stakes in which the branches are located. Permission must be obtained for each ceremony to be performed.”

Q. Will you give us a little information on whether or not the Church regards the Manifesto as the revealed word of God or if it was just an action of the Church. – R.B., Salt Lake City.

A. The Church does accept the Manifesto as the revealed word of God, given through the prophet, seer and revelator of the day when it was issued, President Wilford Woodruff. A copy of the manifesto is found immediately following Section 132 in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is published in all editions of this book, and has been since the Manifesto was issued. Published with it is a motion made by President Lorenzo Snow, and adopted and passed by the Church as a whole accepting the Manifesto as authoritative and binding upon all members of the Church. In the Nov. 7, 1891 issue of the Deseret News, appears a statement by President Wilford Woodruff concerning this matter. In it he says: “I have had some revelations of late, and very important ones to me. And I will tell you what the Lord has said to me. Let me bring your minds to what is termed the Manifesto. The Lord has told me by revelation that there are many members of the Church throughout Zion who are sorely tried in their hearts because of the Manifesto, and also because of the testimony of the Presidency of the Church and the Apostles before the Master of Chancery. Since I received that revelation I have heard of many who are tried in these things. * * * The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and he also has told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the spirit and power of God they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.” He then described what would have happened to the Saints if they had continued to practice plural marriage, how their property would have been confiscated, including the temple. He told how, with the temples confiscated all temple work for living and dead would have stopped. He made it clear in this statement that “the Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice.” He said confusion would have reigned throughout the Church, and many men would be made prisoners. He then affirmed that the Lord told him what to do about the practice of plural marriage, and the Manifesto was the result. The Manifesto did come by vision and revelation to the president of the Church, who, as the prophet, seer and revelator of the Lord, was the one appointed to make known the will of God to his people. All Latter-day Saints are bound by that Manifesto, and anyone who teaches so-called plural marriage today does so against the will and wishes of the authorities of the Church, and in doing so they subject themselves to excommunication.

Q. In Mosiah 18:4 a description is given of the place where the first Alma went with his followers, and wherein h performed his baptisms. That land is “a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king.” Does that mean there was a king named Mormon who lived among the descendants of Lehi at that early day? – J.R.W., Long Beach, Calif.

A. No, not necessarily. Remember if you will that the Book of Mormon is an abridgment and that we do not have the names of all prominent people living among the descendants of Lehi. The record which came to us does not contain them all, in fact they were not necessary to our understanding of the gospel. There may have been a king named Mormon, and there may not. As a matter of fact, when you read the scripture carefully it allows for another interpretation, to the effect that the king – any king – gave the land the name, but it does not necessarily followed that he called the land after his own name.

Q. Is there any set number of patriarchs to officiate in any one stake? – B.S.A., Ogden.

A. No. Every stake is entitled to one patriarch, and should have one in order to fill up its official roster, and serve the needs of the people. In large stakes some times two are appointed, and this is particularly true if one of the patriarchs is not in good health. Sometimes a patriarch may move from one stake to another. With the approval of the First Presidency, and Twelve, a stake presidency may have such a man sustained to serve in his new stake as a patriarch. He would serve in addition to the men already serving in this position. The appointment of patriarchs is reserved for the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, who supervise their work.

Q. Is attendance at our Church meetings increasing or decreasing? There seems to be a greater interest among the people, but I wonder if it reflects in Church attendance. – R.L.P., Moroni.

A. According to the reports compiled by the Melchizedek Priesthood Committee of the Church there has been an increase of 21.42 per cent in attendance at Sacrament meeting on the part of holders of the priesthood during the period 1945 to 1947 inclusive. This should also reflect a gain in attendance of members of the families of these priesthood holders.

Q. Does the Church officially teach that Hagoth, referred to in Alma 63:4-8 was the actual forefather of the South Sea Islanders? I have heard this doctrine taught and have wondered if it was authentic. – Mrs. J.R., Manti.

A. The Church takes no official stand on this subject. All we know about Hagoth is what appears in the scriptural references you have cited. There is little doubt in the minds of the Latter-day Saints that the Polynesian peoples were descendants of Lehi, and drifted from the mainland to the South Sea Islands. But to positively identify Hagoth as one who thus drifted to the South Seas is to enter the field of speculation and try to make a decision upon a subject about which there is no revelation. We should stay with the revealed word of God, and not with speculation, for speculation does not save souls. Only the revealed truth can do that.



18 Comments »

  1. “Most people of average intelligence understand this…”

    Was there some golden age of religious education and knowledge among the general population? Was religious observance higher in decades past? In 1948?

    Comment by Researcher — March 9, 2011 @ 6:47 am

  2. Most people of average intelligence understand this anyway

    might be my favorite response thus far.

    Comment by kew — March 9, 2011 @ 6:51 am

  3. We should stay with the revealed word of God, and not with speculation, for speculation does not save souls. Only the revealed truth can do that.

    Much to the disappointment of many Latter-day Saints past and present…

    Comment by Alison — March 9, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  4. The instructions on marriage seem excessively rigid, as these are not sealings, just civil marriages being discussed. In many states, any citizen can perform the ceremony, and in the others any ordained minister (including full-time missionaries, for instance) are legally authorized. So I wonder why the policy seems so rigid.

    Recognizing that “speculation does not save souls” and “most people of average intelligence” already understand this, I’d appreciate the insight on why this policy was so strict, and if a similar policy is in place today.

    Comment by Clark — March 9, 2011 @ 9:32 am

  5. I “speculate,” Clark, that this has little to do with civil legalities and everything to do with the church giving its approval to a quasi-representative of the church. If you want to encourage temple weddings, part of that is discouraging civil ceremonies as an acceptable substitute, and part of that would be restricting the persons you authorize to represent you in performing those civil ceremonies.

    I don’t know that this was ever a problem, but I can imagine the possibility of a problem arising if every Melchizedek Priesthood holder were authorized by the church to represent it in officiating at weddings: Just as we have a sizable number of church members who resist taking their babies to Fast Meeting for blessing preferring instead to have a family ceremony at home, and even a seemingly growing number who want to perform child baptisms in exotic locales as a purely family affair, I can imagine people who would want to “keep the wedding in the family” by having Dad or Uncle Fred perform the ceremony, at home, with just family. While all those rites are obviously intimate ones, a larger society — the church — has a legitimate stake in them, and limiting the whos and hows and wheres is one way of claiming and maintaining that legitimate interest.

    Just speculatin’.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  6. Another reason to limit marriage-performing to bishops and stake presidents is that false traditions can creep in.

    Once in the US, and once in South America, I’ve seen branch presidents (Spanish-speaking) say words to the effect “by the power and authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, I pronounce you man and wife.”

    In the US, a Mormon “church wedding” done outside of the Temple is indeed a civil wedding, and the priesthood has nothing to do with a civil wedding.

    In that South American country, the law requires a civil wedding, and requires it be done at the appropriate government office by a government official. Then any church wedding, if they want one, is left up to the participants.

    The only church allowance I’m aware of is that the church waives the one-year waiting period it normally requires between civil-weddings and temple-sealings in countries whose law mandates a civil wedding.

    So in both cases that I witnessed, in the US and in that country, the LDS officiator spoke improperly, and they were _not_ married by any priesthood authority. In the US, it was through the authority given that branch president by the state of Indiana, and in South America, it was pretty much just show and pretend, so the couple could say to their friends “Yes, we got married in church.”

    Comment by Bookslinger — March 9, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  7. A larger society — the church — has a legitimate stake in them, and limiting the whos and hows and wheres is one way of claiming and maintaining that legitimate interest.

    Ah hah… Sort of like having the bishop preside, conduct, and approve funeral arrangements.

    Comment by Clark — March 9, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  8. Yeah — why didn’t I just say it that briefly?!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  9. I wonder if that extraordinary 20% increase in Sacrament meeting attendance by holders of the priesthood from 1945-47 is not an indicator of the church moving forward but rather about soldiers returning home from WWII.

    Comment by KLC — March 9, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  10. It could well have been partly that, KLC. There was also a serious push then to get people to attend church meetings regularly (for much of our history, those meetings were really kinda optional). But yes, I’ll bet you’re probably right to see it partly as a result of soldiers coming home and everybody wanting to settle into a normal peacetime life again.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

  11. Assorted reactions:

    →Interesting that Mormonism went along with the mainstream-Xianity move toward open communions last century.

    →Intriguing that the Manifesto got placed after D&C 132 back then, rather than as an appendix at the end like now.

    →I’ve never read Mosiah 18:4 to mean that the Waters of Mormon were named after a king, though it clearly is one possible reading of the text, now that it’s pointed out to me.

    →The answer on Hagoth seemed a bit of a tortured (and failed) attempt to thread the needle between the Scylla and Charibdis of “Well, of course!” and “Don’t ever speculate!” </metaphor type=”mixed”>

    →The current handbook has fixed wording for civil marriage ceremonies (and a warning not to deviate from it), which means that misstating the authority for one is relatively unlikely these days.

    (This comment system allows a lot of HTML, but won’t let me create a bulleted list. Pity.)

    Comment by David B — March 9, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  12. I’m impressed that you got the arrows in there, David; I’ve never seen that anywhere before. Can’t wait for an excuse to try that myself.

    Do you suppose a noticeable number of deviations like the ones Bookslinger reports is responsible for the notice in the Handbook? (I know a lot of people just find the Handbook a micromanagement-fest; I think, though, that most of those rules are in response to situations that most of us have never run into. It hadn’t occurred to me that anybody would invoke priesthood authority, for instance, to perform a civil wedding ceremony.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

  13. Interesting, that is the second question on Grave dedication this year, as I remember (probably due to the recent shift in the ordinance).

    Also interesting stats regarding priesthood quorum attendance. Maybe post-war flux?

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 9, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  14. And I should probably refresh before commenting…

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 9, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  15. Nope. I like the independent response! ;)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  16. J. it took you two well chosen words to say the same thing I said in a whole paragraph.

    Comment by KLC — March 9, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  17. Re the new handbook as a micromanagement tool: Most of the stuff in there is so that a new bishop (or EQ President, etc) doesn’t need to pick up the phone every five minutes and call his SP for help. It will still happen, of course, but lots of things that were urban legend are spelled out in the most recent version of Handbook 2 where it is there for all members (and non-members) to look at on the web. One of the obvious ones is that women are allowed to say opening prayers in sacrament meeting, regardless of the letter that someone has from his brother in law who was a stake president and got it from his area authority leader. I think it helps to quash the folk doctrines, and end the silly game of “My GA trumps your GA”.

    Comment by kevinf — March 9, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  18. I loved this part of the quote on avoiding speculation:

    “…to enter the field of speculation and try to make a decision upon a subject about which there is no revelation.”

    In historical hindsight, really, really sound advice. We should keep speculation just for who we think the new bishop is going to be in our wards. It’s kind of like making up your brackets for the NCAA basketball tourney, just as long as you aren’t betting any money, right?

    Comment by kevinf — March 9, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

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