Binding Earth and Heaven

Binding Earth and Heaven: Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism

GARY SHEPHERD
GORDON SHEPHERD
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v32z
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    Binding Earth and Heaven
    Book Description:

    In Binding Earth and Heaven, Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd use early nineteenth-century Mormonism as a case study to examine questions about how new religious movements may, as rare exceptions, survive and even eventually become successful in spite of intense opposition. Initial scorn and contempt for Mormonism—the fledgling creation of a young and ill-educated Joseph Smith—quickly elevated to mob violence as both Smith’s innovative teachings and converted followers proliferated, resulting in the widely held perception that the Mormons constituted a social menace. This book examines how Mormonism attracted and maintained the loyalty of increasing numbers of people despite mounting hostilities and severe hardships. The book focuses on the unique Mormon ritual (and accompanying doctrinal underpinnings) of “patriarchal blessings.” Patriarchal blessings were an innovative adaption of the Old Testament practice of fathers making quasi-legal pronouncements over the heads of their sons—a way of verbally conferring rights, promises, admonition, and guidance to heirs. Binding Earth and Heaven shows how the organizational complexities of this practice contributed to strengthening and sustaining member faith and fealty, thereby bolstering the continuity and development of Mormonism.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05933-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-11)

    With a current official membership of more than 14,000,000 worldwide, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church) is one of the fastest-growing religious denominations in the United States as well as in numerous other countries.¹ Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, the capital city of a staunchly Republican state, the LDS Church is widely known for its advocacy of wholesome lifestyles, traditional gender roles, and conservative family values. Two Mormon former state governors—Mitt Romney (Massachusetts) and John Huntsman (Utah)—vied as Republican Party candidates for President of the United States in 2011, with Romney emerging...

  6. 1 THE COMMITMENT AND DOCTRINAL FUNCTIONS OF EARLY MORMON PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS
    (pp. 12-25)

    The study of early patriarchal blessings and their religious functions for converts to the Mormon restoration in the 1834–1845 period carries us historically to the great breach among Joseph Smith’s followers—occasioned at the time of his death—and their subsequent division into contending doctrinal camps. Two principal denominational entities emerged from that division.

    ‘‘Mormon,’’ ‘‘Mormons,’’ and ‘‘Mormonism’’ are, of course, popular nickname variants used in reference to the doctrines and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church). To complicate matters further, early Mormonism generated numerous schisms following the assassination of its prophet-founder,...

  7. 2 UNITY AND CONFLICT IN EARLY MORMON HISTORY
    (pp. 26-50)

    The rise of nineteenth-century Mormonism illustrates the important convergence of heretical religious innovation, primary group social reinforcement, and auspicious historical circumstances involving a receptive religious market in the context of a supportive cultural environment. All of these elements, in potent combination, are conducive to the successful emergence of new religious traditions.¹ In the case of the Mormons, the heretical innovator was Joseph Smith Jr. The initial social reinforcement came through Smith’s attentive, if not doting, parents and siblings and a spreading network of credulous neighbors and employers. Historical circumstances included American political separation of church and state and frontier settings...

  8. 3 THE OFFICE AND CALLING OF THE CHURCH PATRIARCH
    (pp. 51-65)

    Congruent with its restorationist ideology, covenantal priesthood identification with ancient Israel, and primal belief in contemporary revelation, one of the most interesting doctrinal practices to emerge in early Mormonism was the institutionalization of patriarchal blessings. According to Richard Bushman, ‘‘The office [of the patriarch] emerged out of the practice of public blessings administered by Joseph and by various fathers, most notably Joseph’s own father, Joseph Smith Sr. Gradually these spontaneous blessings evolved into more systematic blessings of comfort and direction and were regularized in the office of the patriarch.’’¹ As succinctly stated by Irene Bates and Gary Smith, ‘‘Beginning with...

  9. 4 THE PROBLEMS AND PROMISE OF PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS AS HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS
    (pp. 66-74)

    As noted in the previous chapter, patriarchal blessings were not only pronounced verbally and extemporaneously but also recorded in writing, with one copy going to the recipients and another kept as an official church record of the blessing. Michael Marquardt succinctly summarizes this process: ‘‘The persons blessed usually retained the original handwritten blessing. At a subsequent date, they would bring their blessing to a Church recorder to be copied into the official blessing book.’’¹ The positions of blessing scribe and/or clerk and recorder were considered to be church callings. As previously mentioned, in the early decades of the Mormon restoration...

  10. 5 PATRIARCHAL BLESSING THEMES, 1834–1845
    (pp. 75-87)

    To restate our basic thesis: LDS patriarchal blessings emerged as a compensatory commitment mechanism in the prophetic development of early Mormonism. A systematic study of early patriarchal blessings is one way to acquire an appreciation for the distinctive prophetic beliefs of the Mormon restoration that motivated converts to prioritize their religious commitments, forsake their former lives, and, in frequent conflict with detractors and opponents, strengthen their devotion to the realization of what they believed was a transcendent cause. That transcendent cause was building God’s Kingdom on earth by preaching the ‘‘restored gospel,’’ gathering Latter-day Saint converts to Zion in preparation...

  11. 6 GENDER DIFFERENCES IN EARLY PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS
    (pp. 88-105)

    Functional theorists since Emile Durkheim have emphasized the integrative and consensual functions of ritual,¹ while conflict theorists argue that rituals primarily serve a political purpose by reinforcing hierarchical structures of domination. Yet other scholars see rituals as vehicles for contesting and mobilizing resistance to established power.² Interpretive disagreements concerning the primary social functions of ritual are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the Mormon case, for example, it is not difficult to appreciate a mixed reading of the social consequences of patriarchal blessings over time. In Mormonism’s early days most converts did not come from wealthy or socially privileged backgrounds. Their...

  12. 7 LATTER-DAY SAINT PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS YESTERDAY AND TODAY
    (pp. 106-120)

    One of the principal assumptions of this book is that new religions that emerge and gain institutional traction in a particular time and place can never be adequately understood as the product of a single religious prodigy or prophetic oracle. Successful new religions are always the product of an interactive social process in which numerous receptive and like-minded individuals converge to construct, mutually, new modes of thought and action. It is a socially creative process. In this process, some individuals, of course, typically contribute substantially more than others to the development of new doctrines and religious norms and to the...

  13. APPENDIX A: Examples of Oracular Versus Inspirational Modes of Prophetic Rhetoric Recorded in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants
    (pp. 121-124)
  14. APPENDIX B: Blessings Randomly Sampled from Michael Marquardt’s Early Patriarchal Blessings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    (pp. 125-128)
  15. APPENDIX C: Thematic Word Index for Patriarchal Blessings
    (pp. 129-134)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 135-152)
  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 153-162)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 163-169)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 170-170)