Passing the Heavenly Gift is not an historic analysis of Mormonism. It is primarily a doctrinal analysis and only incidentally related to history. The many different historic sources allow different stories to be told and supported by selecting from among them. There are some undeniable events foretold by prophecy. It is prophecy which should allow us to make a correct choice between a false and a true narrative. In Passing the Heavenly Gift, I tried to see if there was another possible narrative conforming to the prophecies to replace the traditions we all know. The book explored this possibility.
In the January 1841 revelation to Joseph Smith the Lord stated “the fulness of the priesthood” had been “lost unto you, or which [The Lord] hath taken away.” (D&C 124: 28.) To “restore” it the Lord needed to personally come to a Temple that He was required to be built within a limited time frame. The length of the time given to accomplish the building was not specified by a date certain. Instead the Lord said He would give to the Saints “sufficient time to build a house unto me.” (D&C 124: 31.) In the time between January 1841 and the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June 1844, the Nauvoo Temple was not completed. The walls were only complete to the second floor.
The absence of any date for “sufficient time” to build the Temple leaves that an open question. Traditionally, we believe that extended until sometime following the departure of the Saints in February 1846. A small group remained behind and eventually the Temple was dedicated. But these are undisputed facts:
1. When the endowments were performed between November 1845 and February 1846, the attic was used, but even it was not finished. Canvas was used to separate different areas.
2. At the time the endowments were performed, the rest of the Temple was incomplete.
3. When the endowments were performed, the attic was the only place temporarily dedicated for that limited purpose.
4. The day before departing Nauvoo, the Apostles prayed they would be able to finish the incomplete Temple.
5. The next day, the attic caught fire and the area used for the endowments was badly damaged. Although it was subsequently re-shingled, the charred attic space, which had not been finished before the endowments were performed, was never re-finished to the condition it was in with the canvas dividers. They re-roofed the outside top and left the charred interior alone.
6. When it was finally dedicated, it was only “considered complete enough to dedicate” and not actually a finished structure.
It does not matter which historic source you use there is no diary, letter, journal or talk which says that Christ came to the Nauvoo Temple and “restored again the fulness of the priesthood” which He had previously taken away from the church. Most importantly, there are no claims made by any of the leaders of the church that the “fulness of the priesthood” was bestowed upon them by Christ in the Nauvoo Temple. There are multiple explanations of how “the keys” (which the typical LDS apologist claims to be the same as “the fulness”) were passed to the church’s leaders. None of these involve Christ coming to the Nauvoo Temple to restore again that which was lost. These accounts of “passing the keys” to the Apostles include the following:
1. By virtue of the Apostleship, which is the highest office in the church, keys are automatically passed.
2. By the rituals Joseph performed in the Red Brick Store.
3. By Joseph’s declaration about the “keys of the kingdom” made in a meeting of the Council of Fifty in May 1844.
4. By reason of the equivalencies (Twelve “equal in authority” to the First Presidency, etc.) set out in D&C 107 (an argument never raised during the election in August 1844).
Never has there been a claim that the “fulness” was “restored” to the church by the visit of Christ in the Nauvoo Temple after it had been completed.
The argument that the Lord didn’t need to come because the “fulness” was dispensed by the Apostles in the Nauvoo Endowments in November 1845-February 1846 ignores the language of the revelation. The language of the revelation required the Lord to come and restore again what was lost: “For there is not a place found on earth that he [Christ, personally as I read it] may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you.” (D&C 124: 28, emphasis added.) I take these words at their plain meaning. Therefore. I view the complete absence of any record or claim that the Lord came to the Nauvoo Temple and restored again the “fulness of the priesthood” as an important point to be accepted. The traditional narrative is that the endowments were sufficient to restore the removed “fulness” to the Saints.
History also reflects the Saints were chased out of Nauvoo by an armed mob. They left with considerable hardship in the dead of winter, leaving for the most part in February 1846.
The January 1841 revelation states: “ye shall build [the required Temple] on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build [the Temple which Christ was to visit to restore again the fulness]. If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy. And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place. But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them. And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord. For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practise before me, saith the Lord.” (D&C 124: 43-48.) If you accept these words as a guide to knowing the truth, then answer for yourself the following questions about what happened:
Was the Nauvoo Temple consecrated by the Lord?
Was the Nauvoo Temple made holy by the Lord?
Did the Lord visit it?
Did the Lord restore the fulness to the church within it by coming to bestow it again? How? To whom? When? What was involved?
Did the Saints hearken to the voices of their leaders, Joseph and Hyrum, who had been called by the Lord?
Why did Joseph complain that the church failed to listen to Hyrum? Was there some greater risk to the church if it did not hearken to Hyrum?
Were the Saints moved out of Nauvoo?
Did the “sufficient time” begin in January 1841and last until a date we can now deduce?
What date did the Lord take Joseph and Hyrum from us?
Was three-and-a-half years sufficient to complete the Nauvoo Temple construction?
Were there other projects completed in that time frame, including houses for the church leaders, and Seventies’ Hall, the Masonic Lodge?
If the effort given to these other building projects had instead been spent on completing the Nauvoo Temple, could it have been finished earlier?
Could it have been completed by June 1844?
Was the Nauvoo Temple ever completed?
Were there “blessings” or “cursings” suffered by the Saints immediately following the three-and-a-half years between January 1841 and June 1844?
The effort to build the traditional narrative taught by the LDS church using other source material than I have used can only persuade me I am in error if:
1. There is proof the Lord came to the Nauvoo Temple. (Never claimed by anyone.)
2. There is proof that while in the Nauvoo Temple the Lord restored again the fulness of the priesthood. (Never claimed other than to say the Nauvoo Endowments were the same thing as. But if this were true why did the Lord say He needed to come? I assume the Lord said what He meant and therefore we could only reobtain “the fulness” if He gave it to us, personally, as the revelation promised.)
3. There is proof the Saints were not moved out of their place in Nauvoo because it had become “holy” to the Lord and He defended it. (Which cannot be proven because the opposite happened.)
4. There must be proof the Saints were not cursed, did not suffer wrath, and did not have the judgments of God poured down upon their heads following Nauvoo. (The suffering and wrath of God is apparent from all the contemporaneous accounts of the terrible suffering, privation and death suffered by the Saints in the western trek.)
I have allowed the prophecies to inform the story. I readily admit anyone can build another story that ignores the prophecies, and tells us “all is (and was) well.” But there is no source you can appeal to that conforms to the prophesied events as well as the story proposed in Passing the Heavenly Gift.
The book was written to explore and introduce an idea. That idea is to let the prophecies, instead of our pride, speak to us about us. I want to see our failures, if we have any. I do not want to substitute a happy account based on arrogance to deprive me of the truth. If the warnings are talking to me about me, then I want to face up to that no matter how painful it might be. In the book, in addition to the January 1841 revelation to Joseph Smith, I also use Christ’s prophecies, and Nephi’s warnings to us from the Book of Mormon to inform my effort to reconstruct what has happened in this dispensation. In the end I think it is faith promoting to see ourselves stripped of our vanity and fulfilling the prophetic warnings by our failure. It it a false faith, only pseudo-faith, to ignore the truth and substitute a false narrative about unmitigated success. It was foretold by Christ that we would reject the fullness.
So far the most critical review of the book assumes I am writing history and it proceeds to gather other historic sources to contradict me and to reinforce the traditional narrative. It damns my book and proclaims again that “all is well.” My book isn’t history. It is doctrine. It focuses on prophecy to see if the subsequent events can be shown to fulfill the prophecy. This is how we should always try to understand our condition. Not through the tools of the apologist historian, but instead through the lens of prophecy. What God has said matters a good deal more than what we think of ourselves.