Mormon Cursing

December 19, 2003 | 9 comments
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While reading Wilford Woodruff’s diaries recently, I discovered that I have been living in a cursed part of the country. What am I to make of this, and the more general phenomena of Mormon cursing?

In 1835, Wilfrod Woodruff and Abraham O. Smoot served as missionaries in the southern states. One of the places they visited was Arkansas, particularlly the Little Rock environs, where I happen to live. (Fear not Russell, I don’t think they made it up to Jonesboro.)

As anyone who has read Wilford’s diaries knows, the man was in love with streams. He is constantly fishing, wading, swimming, etc. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was quite enthusiastic about washing the dust off his feet as a testimony against those who rejected him. (See D&C 84:92). His diaries indicate that while he was in Arkansas he dusted his feet against Benton and Paris. (He also notes that in addition to dusting his feet, he bathed and washed, which was not required by revelation but was most refreshing!)

Now, I am in the Little Rock Ward, but as it happens we meet in the Benton building. So what significance, if any, should I attach to this ordinance from long ago?

On a more general level, we seem to have lost something of our cursing theology in Mormonism. For example, during the height of the anti-polygamy raids, Wilford Woodruff compiled a list of all of those who had persecuted the Saints. The Apostles met in either the partially completed Salt Lake Temple or the Endowment House (I forget which), placed the names upon the alter, and had a kind of reverse prayer circle, calling down the judgment of God upon the enemies of the Church. This is the flip side of the oft told story of how Wilford performed the temple work for the Founding Fathers and other “prominent men” (including, interestingly, Darwin’s Harvard critic Louis Agassiz).

I suppose that we can understand these sorts of ordinances in two ways. First, we can think of them as a kind of formal testimony bearing. The idea, I suppose, is that we are providing God with probative evidence in the judgment day. (Perhaps allowing particaption by aggrieved parties in the judgment process is a way of maintaing social order among the infinite concourses of eternal intelligences.) Second, we can think of them as a version of the sealing power, binding on earth what will be bound in heaven.

Reading Wilford, both elements are there, but the sealing element seems strongest. On the otherhand, he always seems to be sealing people up to the judgment of the Lord, which they were presumably were going to get any ways. So I am a bit puzzled by what to make of the whole thing. Perhaps Wilford wanted an excuse to take a break from preaching and scout out some fishing holes…

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9 Responses to Mormon Cursing

  1. Kaimi on December 20, 2003 at 11:13 am

    Hi Nate,

    I think it’s part of the general trend away from vengeance, touting our own differences, and so forth, and moving towards a more gentle, friendly, and missionary-oriented image.

    For example, see this article about changes, such as changing the words to “Praise to the Man” which originally read that “Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins, stain Illinois . . .”

    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,405014037,00.html

    I also did a Google search on Praise to the Man and “stain Illinois” and came across this page by an LDS splinter group (warning: LDS splinter group link), which in essence claims that the blood of the prophets is still to be avenged on the United States.

    http://www.helpingmormons.org/TLC_Manti/GospelDiscussionsFolder/JH/JH2-Oath%20of%20Vengeance.html

  2. Nate on December 20, 2003 at 12:19 pm

    You are probably right. I am not particularlly eager to reak vengence on an unrepentent Illinois, but there is a wonderful earthiness and passion about Wilford that I miss in something like, say, the Home Front ads.

    Fortunately, some of our vengeful hymn lyrics survive. “We Thank Thee Oh God For the Prophet” still contains the immortal lines:

    “While the wicked who fight against Zion shall never such happiness know!”

    Serves them right…

    BTW, I have a circa 1900 copy of an LDS hymnal, which is pretty fun. Some of the lyrics of current hymns have been altered, and it is interesting to see the original words. Even more fun, however, is discovering now forgotten Mormon hymns or forgetten verses to familiar hymns.

    I guess that I just miss some (but certainly not all!) of our former wierdness.

  3. Adam Greenwood on December 20, 2003 at 12:51 pm

    Not to take the idea too seriously or anything, but it could also be that curses are a sort of default rule. That is, maybe one can overcome the presumption of a curse by a sustained course of righteousness (much as the Lamanites did at some points in the Book of Mormon). Also, I think that earthly sealings have to be understood as provisional. I doubt anything is really locked in until the resurrection, or how could one be released from one’s sealings, as sometime happens?

    I no more think a cursing guarantees damnation than I think a temple sealing ensures salvation (yes, I know, there’s an argument that it does.)

  4. Bob Caswell on December 20, 2003 at 12:54 pm

    I feel that Mormon cursing is just one of the many things that has been changed since the Church was restored. From the endowment being shorter to homemaking being called enrichment, the Church is striving to be as politically correct as possible without getting rid of some its core doctrines.

    The question I ask is, as the Church continually grows and gains momentum, do old truths that were held dear by some get washed away in a watered down try-and-attract-more-members Church?

    Now, let me set the record straight here… I’m not necessarily a fan of Mormon cursing and/or a longer endowment, which explains just how bad it can be for us if we go astray now that we know the truth.

    BUT, why are these things shunned by members of the Church only to be discussed on an Internet blog rather than in an Elders’ quorum?

    Most people I know, after hearing some of the things Wilford Woodruff did, would just as soon plug their ears, quickly forget about it, and say that it must not have happened because it’s not in the Wilford Woodruff teaching manual.

    Can we not accept the past for what it is? Or must we remember only parts of it selectively?

  5. lyle on December 20, 2003 at 2:18 pm

    As always, y’all come up with a high falutin idear instead of discussin the much more generale probleme of dang, jeez, fetch and my BoM fav…Shiz.

  6. Nate on December 23, 2003 at 6:19 pm

    I am all for treating the past as what it really is. I am just confused as to what it really is…

  7. Bob Caswell on December 24, 2003 at 1:58 pm

    Nate, in reference to our church, I am also confused as to what the past really is. There are plenty of anti-Mormon groups, which base their whole disdain for us on our past. It seems that it’s hard to know what really happened in the Church when you have anti-Mormons making parts of it up and Mormons selectively remembering the “greatest hits”. Do you think there is any way around being confused? Or are we just stuck with it?

  8. Aaron Shafovalfof on January 5, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    Sociologists have shown that most religions do this. In the beginning, their salience lies in distinctiveness. To survive, they mainstream and become more palatable to the surrounding culture. I suggest doing a study on the change of literature in LDS history, particularly in the conference talks and published theological material.

    One may assent to the fact that it has actually changed, but the real question I think is this: Is this change acceptable and glorifying to God?

    Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever…

    Take care,

    Aaron

  9. Renee on January 5, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Did anyone watch the final Nauvoo dedication broadcast? Hinckley made some strong comments about the direction the life of the governor of IL’s took after the Saints left. And not just the gov’s life but those of his family. Thoughts?