Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Temple adoptions were part of LDS evolution toward genealogy work

Editor's note: Although this Cal Grondahl cartoon is not related to this week's essay, it's a favorite of mine, done by Cal in the recent era of the popularity of The Book of Mormon Musical.

The majority of faithful Latter-day Saints who engage in temple work for the dead probably have never heard of the Law of Adoption. Yet, for roughly a half century, until 116 years ago, it was the forerunner of today’s large-scale church temple ordinances for the deceased, which are considered sacred and necessary in the LDS Church for afterlife progression.

Gordon Irving, then associate historian for the LDS Church, wrote a fascinating piece for the spring 1974 issue of BYU Studies. Titled, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” Irving explains that in 1830, the genesis of the church, “early members appear to have accepted the traditional Christian view of a heaven for the righteous and a hell for the wicked.”

That would change soon. By 1832, Irving writes, the prophet Joseph Smith had published revelation that there were three separate kingdoms of glory within heaven, or salvation; furthermore, the kingdom assigned a person depended on his or her good works. At this time, the Mormon concept of hell evolved into a place called “sons of perdition,” which was restricted to very few.

The concept of eternal salvation would continue to evolve for more than half a century. Irving explains that an aspect of LDS belief that attracted many converts was its claim of authority to act in God’s name. While Smith assured Saints via revelation that “All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom,” many wondered how a deceased loved one could attain the celestial kingdom without baptism. The solution, according to Smith, was baptism for the dead.

However, Smith’s 1843 revelation dividing the celestial kingdom into three degrees asserted that family ties, extending back to Adam, were essential to achieving exaltation, or the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. The “way to do this,” explained Smith later, was through celestial marriage in a temple. Through celestial marriage, the doctrine goes, earth’s families could be linked to a chain of family that began to Adam and subsequently, become “heirs of exaltation.”

But the exaltation doctrine created concerns that persons would attain the celestial kingdom but not its highest level because they could not link their family chains to a proper priesthood authority extending to Adam.

A solution to that dilemma was that prominent church members could be grafted — through ordination by the prophet — to the patriarchal order — thereby allowing them to “adopt as children” members of the church. This is a key reason early church members, such as John D. Lee, are often referred to as “adopted sons” of Brigham Young, or Heber C. Kimball, or other apostles.

Although Irvine says it’s unclear if adoptions occurred before Smith died, they were common when Brigham Young became prophet. In fact, there were plans to even start settlements with “adopted” families of Young, Kimball, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and other prominent LDS apostles.

According to Irvine’s article, some of the early apostles even pitched themselves and advertised for “children to adopt.” Irvine writes, “Apostle George A. Lee Smith admitted in February, 1847, that he had lextioneered” with all his might to get people to join him.” These “adopted” families would meet for conferences with counsel from Young, Kimball, and social events such as dances.

Within several years, though, adoptions had fallen out of favor. Human nature was a key reason. Like real families, adopted siblings tended to quarrel. Irvine recounts feuds between Lee and other of Young’s adopted children. Other examples include adopted children — grown men — worried they would be subordinate to their “adopted fathers” in the celestial Kingdom. Other adopted “children” believed they could be supported by their “fathers.” Prophet Young, writes Irvine, wryly noted in 1847 “that he hoped the day would come when his adopted children would ‘have to provide temporal blessings for me instead of my boarding from 40 to 50 persons as I do now …’”

In the 1870s, the construction of a temple in St. George, Utah, renewed interest in adoption. New rules were established for the ordinance. One allowed deceased non-member husbands of women members to be adopted. Another allowed members more choice in who they could choose as an adopted father. As a result of the temples being away from Salt Lake City, many members chose deceased apostles to adopt them, because a proxy could be used.

Eventually, the second phase of adoptions failed to satisfy members as well. Many were distressed at the strict rules allowing only one generation beyond baptism to be adopted. Church members who had traced their ancestry much further, writes Irvine, were upset those ancestors would not have the fullness of the Gospel. Others groused that the adoption doctrine was still too complex and difficult to understand.

Adoption ended via — once again — a revelation. In 1894, Church Prophet Wilford Woodruff announced that all children would be “adopted to his (or her) father.” He further said, “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run the chain as far as you can get it.”
President Woodruff detailed the revelation as additions from the Lord to what Joseph Smith hard originally received. This, Irvine explains, fits with the Mormon concept of continuous revelation, “line upon line, precept upon precept,”

Woodruff’s revelation was very popular, and remains so today. It’s no coincidence that the Mormons’ now iconic interest in genealogy work increased at that time.

There were still kinks to be worked out. Church leaders took pains to assure anxious members that adoption/sealing to a parent was as valid as one to an apostle. Also, the 13,000-plus Saints who had been adopted by Young, Kimball, and the others were a dilemma. As Irvine writes, Church leaders let God sort it out, directing these members to be sealed to their parents while keeping their former “adoptions” in church records.

-- Doug Gibson

This post was originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, March 20, 2017

John Q. Cannon and Louie Wells, a Utah Camelot scandal

I’m haunted by a ragged PDF-copied photograph, courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society, of Louisa “Louie” Wells, who 130 years ago was a princess in Mormon Salt Lake City. The poor quality of the reproduced photo does not hide that she was a beautiful young woman. “Louie” Wells was the daughter of Mormon elitist Daniel Hamner Wells, Salt Lake City mayor, and Emmeline Blanche Wells, Mormon feminist and magazine editor.
Besides being favored with beauty, and a steady, esteemed Mormon suitor, journalist Robert W. Sloan, Louie was as accomplished as a Jane Austen heroine. She sang beautifully, she performed in Salt Lake City plays and operas, including “The Mikado,” was an early leader of the LDS ladies Mutual organization, and was an excellent essayist, writing accounts of her travels to the eastern United States and Europe for the LDS journal Women’s Exponent. She was groomed to be a Mormon woman icon, perhaps as well known today as Eliza R. Snow.
Today, in a corner of the Salt Lake City cemetery, a tombstone, well over a century old, bears the name “Louie,” and nothing else. Louie Wells died an agonizing death at 24, far from home, with her mother at her side, helpless to save her. In less than a year, her bright future and presumed happiness was extinguished. The events that led to her death roiled Salt Lake City and nearly destroyed the kinship between two prominent families, the Wells and the Cannons. 
Historian Kenneth Cannon III’s article, “The Tragic Matter of Louie Wells and John Q. Cannon,” is must reading if one wants to learn more after reading this blog. In 1886, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, John Q. — the eldest living son of Mormon elder George Q. Cannon, and a former Ogden Standard editor, Deseret News reporter, counselor in the LDS Church Presiding Bishopric, and husband of Annie Wells Cannon, Louie’s sister   — shocked a crowd gathered to worship by confessing to adultery. He was immediately excommunicated, promptly divorced from Annie, and then married to Louie.
Although John Q. Cannon did not mention the “other woman,” the hasty marriage to Louie made it easy to guess whom he had slept with. Try to imagine an LDS general authority today confessing to adultery during a stake conference and one understands how shocked Mormons were at the time. On the other hand, the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune was delighted. It had, in 1884, published gossip that John Q. and Louie had secretly married. At the time, John Q. had tracked down the reporter, and beat him up.
After his 1886 confession to adultery, divorce and new marriage, federal marshals — always on the lookout for polygamists — arrested John Q., claiming his quick divorce from Annie was illegal. Louie, already pregnant, went into hiding but was located by authorities. She spent a humiliating time in court denying she was a plural wife.
The case against John Q. eventually lost steam. Long before its resolution, Louie was sent to San Francisco by her family to have the baby. It was not the first time that she had been made pregnant by her brother in law. John Q. confessed to an intimate that he had impregnated Louie in 1885 and that she had miscarried.  This news seems to lend partial credibility to the controversial Tribune article, although no marriage occurred. The source for that article, according to Kenneth Cannon’s piece, was Angus Cannon Jr., the despised, “scoundrel” son of Angus Cannon Sr., polygamist and stake president, who had accompanied John Q. when he confessed in 1886.
Louie Cannon Wells died six weeks after suffering her second miscarriage. Her death at 24 was due to dropsy, and she suffered terribly. Mom Emmeline was unable to help ease her pain, which must have been exacerbated due to stress, hiding and traveling. During their short marriage, Louie and her husband were likely never together. He was not at her side when she died. Shortly after Louie’s death, John Q. and Annie Wells were remarried. Several years later, Louie was sealed to John Q. in a temple ceremony.
At Louie’s funeral, an already bad situation was dangerously increased when stake president Angus Cannon publicly identified Louie as the adulterous partner of John Q. This created a feud between the Cannons and Wells that eventually led to Angus Cannon physically striking Louie’s sister, Mell, and threatening to tell more about the affair. Later, John Q. threatened to kill Angus Cannon. Tensions were finally eased thanks to the Wells family matriarch, Emmeline. Tolerant, and a peacemaker at heart, she reached out to the Cannons, and the situation calmed. However, the rift never died, as Emmeline Wells’ diary entry of May 17, 1898, footnoted by Kenneth Cannon, reads, “Angus is 64 years old today. ... He has seen much sorrow and as he has been unkind and ungenerous to others harsh in his judgment one need not be surprised that it comes back upon him — As ye mete it out to others so shall it be unto you, and therefore he should expect it.”
As with any tragedy, there are “why” questions. Why didn’t John Q. make Louie a plural wife, and avoid church punishment? One answer may be that plural marriage for younger LDS scions was being subtly discouraged at a time when Utah leaders wanted statehood. More likely is that John Q. could not control his lust for a beautiful, younger sister in law living in the home, particularly when his own wife was pregnant. In his article, Kenneth Cannon points out that despite being the favored older son, (John Q. had been called to be an apostle long before the adultery was revealed, only to have that blocked by LDS Church President John Taylor), John Q. was a dysfunctional man. He was prone to drinking, gambling and carousing. It’s possible that inebriation fueled his lust. Also, one two occasions, John Q. embezzled thousands of dollars while held positions of trust. He was bailed out both times by his family’s influence.
Time, and staying alive, returned John Q. to society’s esteem. After his remarriage, he was restored to membership to the LDS Church and was a Deseret News editor. He and Annie had 12 children. John Q. is buried in the Cannon family plot next to his wife Annie. Elsewhere, in the Wells family plot, sits the stone with the sole word, “Louie,” on it.
A previous version of this column was published at StandardBlogs.
An historical novel on the affair is also available.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Apostle's adultery rocked LDS Church 130-plus years ago

More than 130 years ago, the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was roiled by a tawdry affair of power-based predator adultery by elderly apostle Albert Carrington, who once named to the church hierarchy used his authority to seduce far younger women, including British converts barely out of their teens. Despite allegations stretching back a decade, Carrington escaped punishment until one of his mistresses confessed the sexual escapades to her new husband. At that point, his fall was swift.

Historian Gary Bergera recounts the Carrington case in the Summer 2011 issue of Journal of Mormon History. (It’s the first of a three-part series on LDS leaders who were disciplined for sexual misconduct). Carrington’s case is interesting not only for his bizarre defense, which echoes U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 100-plus years later, but for the culture of sexual dysfunction of that era, where elderly male church leaders were urged to select young plural brides while on assignments, yet “excessive indulgence in the marital relation” were denounced as sinful from LDS pulpits at the same time.

There’s no doubt that Albert Carrington, once editor of the Deseret News, was a despicable rake, and the outrage of his fellow apostles, who excommunicated him, was sincere. As Bergera relates, in 1882, more than a decade after being called as an apostle, Carrington was finishing his tenure as head of the LDS Church’s European mission when word reached his successor, John Henry Smith, that the 69-year-old Carrington has been seen in compromising positions with his housekeeper, Sarah Kirkman, 20.

Although church leaders were concerned enough to do a formal investigation and request a detailed response from Carrington in 1883, his denials brought a temporary end to the matter. Carrington rather shrewdly confessed to being “unwise” in his familiarity with Kirkman, but strongly denied any sexual misconduct. That was explanation enough for the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, which unanimously retained him as a member.

However, as Bergera relates, it wasn’t too long before the Quorum learned that Carrington had lied to them. In 1885, Kirkman, now married, told her husband, Richard Bridge, of her past sexual relations with Carrington, some of which had occurred in Utah after her marriage. After this reached the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, more investigation revealed that Carrington had committed adultery with other young women.

Confronted by his peers in the Quorum, Carrington admitted to sexual activity but used what might have been called a Clintonian defense a century later. He denied he had committed adultery because he “had not mixed his seed” with the women. Using what was later disgustingly referred to as a “four-inch defense,” Carrington insisted that withdrawing and ejaculating outside the women he had sex with cleared him of adultery. As his fellow apostles listened in horror and skepticism, Carrington described his activities as “a little folly in Israel” and thanked the Lord for clearing him of the sin of adultery.

As Bergera notes, the Quorum quickly excommunicated him. Besides disapproval of the sins, his peers must have been angry with how Carrington’s behavior would hurt the church’s image, already suffering due to its practice of polygamy. Yet in his diary, Carrington, who had two wives, was mystified as to why he was cast out, insisting, Bergera records, that he had “never committed, even in thought,” adultery.

The former apostle’s health declined rapidly and before long he was bedridden. For more than a year, the now-repentant Carrington’s pleas for rebaptism were rejected by the apostles, many of whom were outraged at the blatant adultery, his explanations, and his longtime deception to them. One apostle, Moses Thatcher, Bergera records, was so incensed as to wish that adultery was a life-forfeiting sin. Future LDS President Heber J. Grant noted in his diary that Thatcher “hoped that the day was not far distant when the adulterer would forfeit his life, and then the question of rebaptism would never be raised.” Other apostles, with their new perception of the disgraced Carrington, “recollected” that he had never been a positive force in the quorum.

Time heals anger, as well as feelings of betrayal, and eventually mercy was granted Carrington. By the fall of 1887, the Quorum approved his re-baptism and confirmation. It occurred at the bedridden’s Carrington’s home. More than 30 years later, Grant, as LDS prophet, noted in General Conference that it was Section 64 of the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants, that moved him to OK Carrington’s rebaptism. Verse 10 reads, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Bergera, in his JMH article, writes that many of the LDS apostles “may have wondered why Carrington, as family patriarch, had not simply brought Kirkman to Utah and married her regardless of his wives’ reaction.” Carrington was alone in London while mission president. Interestingly, Carrington and other missionaries had been urged by LDS President Brigham Young to get married. Bergera notes, from the Journal of Jesse Nathaniel Smith, that Young told Carrington and others in 1868: “When you get over there I want each of you to select a good girl and marry her.” However, Bergera adds that Carrington refused to marry another wife unless his first wife, Rhoda Maria, was with him to help select a plural wife.

As Bergera writes, “There are hints that Carrington’s first wife, Rhoda, did not respond favorably to the prospect of additional wives; and as a consequence, Carrington may have felt less constrained regarding extramarital sexual activity.” If that’s so, it was a life-wrecking assumption.

Carrington had been member of the LDS Church since the Nauvoo era. The stress of his excommunication doubtless contributed to his rapid physical and mental deterioration after 1885. (It also helped end his daughter Jane’s long marriage to Brigham Young’s son, apostle Brigham Young Jr.) In fall 1889, as the 76-year-old Carrington was dying, LDS leaders agreed to his family’s request that he receive the LDS priesthood so he could be buried in the faith’s garments. As Bergera relates from the diary of John Nuttall, secretary to the First Presidency, Carrington died minutes before he was to be ordained. “It was afterwards decided (that) Bro. Carrington may be buried in his Temple clothing,” Nuttall recorded on Sept. 19 1889.

In fact, 15 minutes after his death, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff directed elders to ordain the deceased former apostle an elder. (Albert Carrington below)

Post originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Elijah Ables: Black Mormon priesthood holder in the 19th century

Elijah Ables is no stranger to Mormon history, although he’s virtually unknown. Ables was a black man who was ordained to the LDS priesthood in the 1830s, and remained a faithful Mormon for the next half-century. In the Spring 2013 Journal of Mormon History, there’s a very interesting account of his life and times by Russell W. Stevenson, who teaches at Salt Lake Community College. Stevenson later published the book, "Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables." 

In "A Negro Preacher: The Worlds of Elijah Ables," Stevenson writes of the persistent loyalty of Ables to the Mormon Church despite repeated offenses derived from the widespread racism of that era. As Ables and the young church aged, the racism directed at the mixed-blood faithful Latter-day saint priesthood holder increased. Eventually, the elderly Ables was told that his ordination to the priesthood decades earlier by Joseph Smith was a mistake. Nevertheless, the priesthood was never taken from Ables, and he died in good standing, after falling ill while on a church mission.

Ables was baptized into the LDS Church in 1832 by Ezekiel Edwards near Cincinnati, Ohio. He was likely a free man at the time. He later received his washing and anointing ordinances from fellow member Zebedee Coltrin. Reflecting the racism that followed Ables’ unique status, Coltin later repudiated his act. Stevenson quotes him as saying “... while I had my hands upon his head, I never had such unpleasant feelings in my life.”

Still, by the end of 1836, Ables was listed as a member of the LDS Melchizedek Priesthood group, the Seventy. He received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr. The timing of Ables’ involvement with the Mormons is interesting. It was near the time the young church was expelled from Missouri, largely due to concerns from the pro-slavery forces there that the church was anti-slavery. 

In fact, Joseph Smith followed a position that was consistent among many anti-slavery advocates of that era. He favored moving blacks from America to other areas where they were assured freedom. Two areas frequently mentioned as migration points were Liberia (in Africa) and Upper Canada (or the Ontario area). This relates to Ables’ life because he was soon called to be a missionary to Upper Canada. Ables was a natural choice for Smith. Living in the Ontario area at that time were an estimated 10,000 fugitives from slavery, writes Stevenson. He further supposes, likely correctly, that Smith wanted his black missionary to look at the possibility of setting up a black LDS congregation.

Whatever Ables’ ability to be a bridge between races for the Mormon Church, he faced a lifetime battle trying to maintain acceptance in a church with attitudes on race that were slowly hardening against blacks. This may have been due initially to the conflicts in Missouri. In 1839, LDS apostle Parley P. Pratt wrote, cites Stevenson, “that one dozen free negroes or mulattoes never have belonged to our society in any part of the world, from the first organization to this date.”

Obviously, Ables — and others — participation in the early LDS Church prove Pratt’s claims wrong. But the intemperate remarks underscore how difficult typical 19th century racism made it for early Mormon leaders to have the collective Gospel-oriented society they were preaching. Smith’s solution was to move blacks to their own collective societies. This was likely a key reason for Smith calling Ables to another mission, to Cincinnati, where there was a large population of free black workers.

As Stevenson notes in his article, Smith’s appointment of Ables shows he must have had great trust in the elder. The Concinnati branch of the church was unstable, and prone to apostasy. Outside the church there were race riots between free blacks and white settlers.  This area was to be Ables’ home for nearly a decade, long past Joseph Smith’s murder in 1844. During that time, Ables was a stabilizing force there, remaining a church member under Brigham Young but staying on good terms with members of divergent branches, including followers of Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, David Whitmer, William Smith and those who formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Eventually, Ables, his wife, and family decided to migrate to Utah. Unfortunately, as mentioned, racial attitudes hardened under Brigham Young’s leadership. As Stevenson notes, Young allegedly opined that the “curse of Cain” remained because Cain had once been a mighty captain in the pre-existence. After he killed Abel, Cain’s followers in the pre-existence still respected him enough to take the curse and come to the earth with black skin. This curse of dark skin, Young allegedly claimed, wuld last until all of Captain Abel’s spirits could come to the earth.

This kind of suppositions by Young led him to say in 1852, as Stevenson notes from Wilford Woodruff’s journal, “If a man has one drop of Cain in him (he) cannot receive the Priesthood.” (He further stated that if a Caucasian) “mingles his seed with the seed of Cane (sic) the ownly (sic) way he could get rid of it or have salvation would be to come forward & have his head cut off & spill his blood upon the ground.” (The penalty for interracial marriage “would also take the life of the children,” Woodruff records Young as saying.

Despite this rhetoric, appropriately regarded as horrendous, there is no evidence that Ables was physically harmed in Utah. He worked as a arpenter and hotel manager in Salt Lake City, and spent a few years in Ogden. His family performed minstrel shows for LDS wards in Utah, writes Stevenson.

His attempts to receive temple endowments for himself, his wife, and his children were rebuffed by Young. In 1853, Young framed his racism with an expectation that the “curse of Cain’ would be removed one day by the order of God, and, as Stevenson quotes him, ”all the races will redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.“

After Young’s death, Ables, now a widower, again petitioned the new church president, John Taylor, for temple endowment privileges. Again he was denied. As Stevenson writes, ”Taylor and the Twelve decided that Joseph Smith had erred in ordaining Ables to the priesthood. ... nevertheless, (he was) allowed to remain.“

It was a final insult to Ables’ reasonable request after a lifetime of service to his church, but the longtime member took it in stoically, remaining an active member of his Seventies quorum, notes Stevenson. Soon after leaving for another mission to Cincinnati, Ables took ill, returned to Salt Lake City, and died on Christmas Day 1884. He was likely born between 1808 and 1810.

As late as 1908, Stevenson writes, Mormon president Joseph F. Smith was claiming that church founder Joseph Smith had declared the late Ables' priesthood "null and void." Yet in the same contradictions that Ables dealt with all his life, Joseph F. Smith also declared that Ables had been a "staunch member of the church." In 2002, a gravestone for Ables was placed in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. His church accomplishments, including his priesthood status, are summarized.

-- Doug Gibson

This post was originally published in StandardBlogs.