My inner historian smiles

September 29, 2008 | 29 comments
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The little historian in me cheers for small things, such as correct phrasing. At the General Relief Society Broadcast on Saturday, September 27, Sister Barbara Thompson quoted Joseph Smith as saying, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God . . .” rather than the misquoted (for nearly 150 years), “I now turn the key in your behalf . . .” Bravo to Sister Thompson! Bravo to Jill Derr, Janath Cannon, and Maureen Beecher for their meticulous research (that set the record straight) in Women of Covenant. It seems that now—sixteen years post-publication—the women and men who know the history of the Relief Society, know it correctly.

I understand there might be concerns about people misunderstanding the historically-accurate phrasing, but I say let’s work on misunderstandings with explanations rather than inaccuracies.

29 Responses to My inner historian smiles

  1. no-man on September 29, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Little known bit of trivia: Linda King Newell, in the early 1980s, corrected this same misreading in the hymn that made it into the 1985 hymnal. It was originally titled “A Key Was Turned in Our Behalf”. Linda had been given an early copy of the hymn, called someone on the music committee, and explained what the historical record really said. So the hymn was rewritten as “A Key Was Turned in Latter Days”. In Linda’s research for her book on Emma Smith she became familiar with the original quote, so it’s been almost 3 decades now that historians, at least, know that the “in your behalf” was incorrect.

  2. Marjorie Conder on September 29, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I was cheered by this also. I have made such a big deal of this in the (probably several hundred) RS talks I have given in the last 20 years, that at least a dozen sisters stopped me, or called me on the phone to rejoice in this development with me. It is also correct in the current RS/MP Joseph Smith manual. Pres. Hinckley did it correctly in the 1st Pres. message in the March 1992 Ensign. That was the first time it was correct in any official Church publication since 1940. It was a “gift” of the RS sesquicentennial along with the Women of Covenant book. However other sesquicentennial materials had it wrong. (Even though I KNOW that Sister Jack and company tried with all their might to have those materials done correctly.) In most of the years since it has sometimes been right and sometimes wrong. However, I think the “wheel has turned” on this issue and it will continue to appear correctly more and more. It has been a long time coming.

    As a sidenote, the RS minutebook from Nauvoo (which is the source for this quote) is on public display in the Church Museum until the first of the year (2009). It is the only time it has been on public display since the sesquicentennial and for quite a while before that. While the miinutebook may sound, and even look, dull as mud, it is one of those seminal document of the Restoration and should be of special interest to Latter-day Saint women everywhere.

  3. Clean Cut on September 29, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Very interesting. Bravo indeed!

  4. Kylie Turley on September 29, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Too true, no-man and Marjorie Conder. Those of you who are “real” historians have known for awhile and done your best to educate the rest of us hobby historians. I’ll be bringing my daughter to see the RS minutebook at the Museum.

  5. Jettboy on September 29, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I don’t get it. Honestly, what is the hoopla about the difference other than getting it right like some history geek? Give an explanation for us who never even knew a difference existed. All I can tell is it has something to do with feminism.

  6. Researcher on September 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    “Hoopla,” Jettboy? Perhaps you would like to discuss the question of whether women hold keys?

  7. Kate on September 29, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    I was thrilled, too. I told the ladies I was watching with later about the quote and the reason for my big smile–some of them were very interested, some of them kind of gave me the look that Jettboy probably had. I was happy to hear several references to the mission of the Relief Society that seemed more in line with its original mission. Bravo.

  8. Kylie Turley on September 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Jettboy #5–
    What if you were standing on your porch and the door was locked? If someone came up and “turned the key in your behalf,” that would mean that someone else unlocked the door and opened it so you could go in. If someone “turned the key to you,” that would mean that someone walked up, handed you the key, then you used the key to unlock the door and go in.

    While obviously in both cases you get to go in, there is a big difference in what “role” you have: that of casual bystander or that of actor/participator in the action.

    To me, the change in wording is a small but symbolic comment on general attitudes about women, their service and role in the church, and the worth of Relief Society. Do women act in this church or are they observers? Are they needed–really needed–in critical ways to build up God’s kingdom or are they part of the crowd ushered in by men with priesthood and keys? Is Relief Society a “club” or a vital element of the church? I know some will think I stumble over a few words, but those few words change the meaning of the sentence–and hence the role of Relief Society and women–in drastic ways.

  9. Kylie Turley on September 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    FWIW, a little more background from the Women of Covenant book:

    ” ‘While the sisters have not been given the priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them,’ explained Joseph Fielding Smith, president of the Council of the in 1958, ‘that does not mean the Lord has not given them authority. Authority and priesthood are two different things.’ Historically, other leaders have made a similar distinction, clearly differentiating between the authority women receive and priesthood offices to which men are ordained. At various times Relief Society history actually has been revised with this distinction in mind. Thus, in preparing the official history of the Church in 1855, the Quorum of the Twelve edited the wording in the original minutes, ‘I now turn the key to you,’ to read ‘I now turn the key in your behalf’” (49

  10. Craig H. on September 29, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Great point Kylie, speaking of course as a mere history geek. Jettboy it’s rarely about merely getting words and letters right. It’s about getting them right because often they have significance, and these certainly do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have been altered in the first place, so that someone had to work so hard to figure out what was originally said.

  11. anita on September 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    okay, but did anyone else notice–i think it was beck–the mention of how this organization (RS) existed in earlier dispensations? where do we have any evidence for that? my inner historian was wondering.

  12. Kylie Turley on September 29, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    I noticed that too, Anita. I have no idea. Obviously there are women in the Bible who served and etc., but I never got the impression that they were involved in a women’s organization.

    Biblical scholars, do you know?

  13. Nitsav on September 29, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I’m unaware of any such thing for the OT or the NT, but ask someone else about the NT and early Christianity.

  14. Julie M. Smith on September 29, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Yes, anita, I’ve been thinking about that, too. I would be really hard-pressed to find anything in the Bible that would support the existence of an ancient RS. (If you forced me to come up with -something-, I’d send you to Luke 8:1-3, where a group of women use their means to support Jesus’ missionary efforts. Acts 9-36-39 is another possibility if you really want to stretch.)

    Further, I can’t think of any statements from this dispensation that would support it, other than the very general idea that the RS was a necessary part of the Restoration and, therefore, was a -restoration- of something that existed anciently. But maybe there are some statements that I’ve missed?

  15. CraigH on September 29, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    I doubt that a women’s organization existed. Is it crucial to find one? RS seems to me quite in line with 19th century ways of organizing women’s causes, and thus is more home to that century than an earlier. I’m not sure we have to read things backwards anyway. I remember a friend who couldn’t get anything published in the Ensign, so he decided to try: “The Same Organization that Existed in the Primitive Church: Paul as Regional Representative.” It was tongue in cheek, of course, so he never actually wrote it. But I understood the sentiment he was trying to play upon. The more I study the ancient church, the more different it seems.

  16. manaen on September 29, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    11. — so that’s why we say the RS is the oldest women’s organization

  17. manaen on September 29, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    (having image of Peter’s wife coming in 1829 to restore key to RS to JS and him later turning that key to Emma)

  18. J. Stapley on September 29, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    ERS was all over the RS as part of the Restoration and that it existed in former times. She drew that from some of JS’s teachings in Nauvoo. “I’m going to make of you a kingdom of priests, as in Paul’s day – as in Enoch’s day” [from memory, so forgive the innacuracies].

  19. Marjorie Conder on September 30, 2008 at 7:27 am

    #18–Stapley–This is how I have heard and understood this idea also.

    Another idea–In section 25 of the D&C the word “ordained” is used in connection with Emma. The footnote now says “set apart”. There certainly is anxiety today over the idea of Emma being “ordained” but some of us think that is just what it means.

    If you are set apart (like a Primary teacher) you have that position for a while and then you don’t. If you are called again as a Primary teacher, you are set apart again. If you are ordained it is something permanent. For example a bishop is ordained and then serves in that capacity. Even after he is released he still retains his ordination as bishop even though he is no longer acting in that position. If he is called again as bishop he is not ordained to that position a second time.

    In the RS minutes from that first meeting JS says that Emma was “ordained” at the “time of the revelation” (section 25) and therefore does not need to be reordained (or set apart.) The first four general RS presidents held the position (ordained) for life. ERS is especially interesting. To all intents and purposes she functioned as the general RS president without being either “ordained” or “set apart” until after Emma’s death. If Emma truly had been “fallen” that would not have been so.

    Just to clarify. None of these women claimed to have been ordained to any male priesthood office, but they did claim to have received power and authority. And FWIW the RS women of Nauvoo and early Utah considered themselves a “quorum”, certainly not an auxiliary.

  20. Kylie on September 30, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Majorie or J. Stapley,

    Did the wording officially change with Emmeline Wells–ie, she was “set apart” not “ordained”? Are there documents that explain why Wells was released–or do we just know that she was?

  21. J. Stapley on September 30, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I know that ERS was “ordained,” as I found an excerpt of her ordination in Arrington’s papers. I am unaware of the details surrounding the subsequent presidencies; though if I had to guess, I believe that she probably would have been the last if such ordinations continued. It is important note how Taylor (who ordained Snow) conceptualized the ordination (along with the prominent women of the RS). It is also important to note that how we use words today isn’t particularly how words have been used throughout Church history and that a lot of crappy analysis rests on anachronism.

    Women of Covenant has a the only treatment of Well’s release, besides Madsen’s dissy, of which I am aware. She was friends with President Grant, but she was very feeble.

  22. mmiles on September 30, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    #18 You are correct according to Mormon Enigma

    “I am glad to have the opportunity of organizing the women as part of the Priesthood belongs to them…” Joseph Smith organizing the RS.

    “In the beginning God created man male and female and bestow’d upon man certain blessings peculiar to a man of God of which woman partook, so that without hte female all things cannot be restor’d to the earth–it takes all to restore the priesthood.”
    Newel K whitney RS minutes May 27 1842 10th meeting

    Joseph also ordained Emma and called her a Mother in Israel. In JS’s teachings this meant the restoration of all things, as becoming after the ancient order in the Old Testament like Sariah and Rebecca and Leah and Rachel. This ancient organization intimated plural wives, as he blessed Emma to be one. It seems to me the ancient RS meant taking part in polygamy, so I then am not sure what they were talking about at general RS conference!

  23. mike on October 1, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Off the Cuff (No salt added):

    I seem to remember a few years back reading in a Sydney Rigdon biography by Richard Van Wagoner a quote of Joseph Smith giving the Relief Society some sort of authority and the quote was “adjusted” later in the History of the Church. Is this the same quote? Amplification of the idea as comprehended by the ever zealous Rigdon lead him, during one of his later Re-Restoration efforts, to ordain his wife and the wives of his counselors as Prophetesses. The Rigdonite (actually The Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion) First Presidency then consisted of 6 individuals, three men and their wives. I can’t find the Rigdon book at this time (the Gadianton Robbers must have made off with it) to provide a direct source. But I seem to recall it was covered in a later chapter about Elect Womanhood, or something like that.

    I had two thoughts: First, this must be one of the origins of the controversy of whether the Prophet Joseph Smith gave women the Priesthood as is commonly asserted by Mormons on the fringe. I found the quote in the Rigdon book more direct and disturbing at the time than this discussion. I am not kidding, some few Mormons think this.

    Second, I thought of this idea myself independently back in the 1980′s except at the Bishopric level when I served in a military ward. It seemed to me to be so wrong for men to be torn away from their wives by constant unaccompanied military tours and then demanding Bishopric callings when home. Why not, I thought, call the wives of the Bishopric to be their clerks? At least it would multiply the amount of time they were able to spend with each other, although it might not be high quality time.

    A strict reading of the D&C sections pertaining to Bishops dictates that their counselors are to be called from the ranks of the Elders or High Priests. But there is this mention of the literal descendants of Aaron serving as a Bishop “without counselors.” I think serving as a Bishop without counselors would be more like a punishment than a priviledge or a blessing. So I saw this as describing a trajectory towards higher ground; extending from punishing a Levitical Jewish guy by making him a Bishop without counselors, to blessing a Ephraimite Bishop with counselors who held the Priesthood as is typical for today, to the highest ground of a future Bishop with the priviledge of serving with women counselors.

    Other possibilities come to mind. Our ward YM and YW Presidencies often cooperate, but at other times it breaks down and the youth auxillaries can be pulling in two directions. I have thought that if some of the YM and YW leaders happened to be married to each other, they might communicate better and avoid the more severe problems. Another angle is when the youth leaders who are supposed to be running the program happen to be teen siblings who actually get along, that could work out nicely.

    When I served as a Stake Young Adult President many years ago, we had previously had a duplication of leadership with an YA men and YA women’s presidencies. Conflict was constant, bitter and destructive. I called two women to be my counselors. The Stake High Council said no. But the YA women’s president could see the wisdom and agreed to my unconventional plan.

    Here was the official list of names (not their actual names) approved by the High Council:

    Men YA President: Mike
    Men YA First Counselor: Willie (not even living there any more)
    Men YA Second Counselor: Scooter (serving mission but easily confused with rowdy twin brother)
    Men YA Secretary: Benny

    Women YA President: Rolaine
    Women YA First Counselor: Victoria
    Women YA Second Counselor: Cassandra (clueless and not reliable)
    Women YA Secretary: LaDawn (good friend/accomplice who didn’t want to do anything)

    But here was the initial list of how the organization actually functioned:

    YA President: Mike
    YA First Counselor: Rolaine
    YA Second Counselor: Victoria
    Secretary/Communications: Benny
    (Back-up person filling in for any of the above): Jody my girlfriend, eventually ex-GF

    We immediately released over 20 people serving on various Stake YA committess, each made of either exclusively young men or young women, with the president- two counselor- secretary pattern (the YA women’s “physical committee” dedicated to weight control was a choice one). We replaced them with a fireside committee (helped by Loraine), an activity committee (helped by Vicki), and a humorous monthly newsletter written by me and published by Benny. One committe leader, either a man or woman, lead each committee for only short periods of time, 2-4 months, with a small number of their friends as assistants. Later we had a summer dance committee, and a YA Sunday School committee that layed the foundation of a single’s ward formed a few years after it was started. I can not begin to describe how much better this worked; to the point they refused to release me for 3 years until I moved away and even then my little brother was saddled with perpetuating the ongoing charade of two seperate organizations.

    Wouldn’t this be something? A Bishopric made of 3-4 couples who divided up the ministerial work perhaps differently than it is now? Since I believe there is no more demanding and difficult position in the Kingdom than Bishop, if it were to work there then it would work anywhere else. How many other callings in the ward allow married couples and families to work together and how many callings keep them apart? How much of this could be changed for the better?

  24. mike on October 1, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Rats, I screwed up. Loraine and Vicki in the next to last paragraph were the real names of Rolaine and Victoria. Anyway…

  25. Kylie Turley on October 1, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Interesting, Mike. In our ward a few years back, the Sunday School secretary was a woman and just happened to be married to the Sunday School president. It worked out very nicely for all involved.

    My hometown ward regularly called older couples as “Home Teaching companions” to visit certain families–often part-member or inactive. My grandparents served together as HT companions for years and did a fabulous job, slowly activating a dozen families over as many years. It makes sense to me on multiple levels.

    My only question, given my time of life, is what to do with the KIDS if parents were serving together. When my husband was in the bishopric and I was YW president, we attended multiple meetings together. It was nice, but trying to find a babysitter for young children 3 out of 4 Sundays was horrible. I hated to take youth away from their own families on Sunday, but sometimes it had to be done. Other than that, I relied on the generosity of member-neighbors. A few times I hauled a couple kids to the meeting.

  26. mike on October 2, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Reply to Kylie #25

    ….what to do with the KIDS ?

    I think when parents have more than one or two small children they should not be considered for any extremely time consuming calling that takes them away from their children. People are living longer with smaller families which results in a growing pool of mature adults with experience and along with the expanding numbers of younger single people without children, we should be able to staff our wards without over-burdening the parents. But we have to get to know people better and really think about how suitable the individual is to the calling. I think that the parents of adolescents are probably best in tune with the needs of that crucial group and parents of children recently sent off to college still recall those times. Youth need to take on more of the duties of managing their organizations.

    We might consider not just couples but family callings. However, at some point it becomes clannish and exclusive. Consider one excellent family in our ward: Three kids in college or beyond, father is 1st C. in Bishopric, mother is YW Pres., daughter is Laurels Pres., son is Deacons Pres. If your flakey teenagers happened to develop a problem with this family, you’d have to move. (Gratefully, my children really like them.)

    Some common assignments I have noticed that didn’t work well:
    Young mothers of new babies and older rowdy primary boys.
    Newly married guys helping their wives lead young teenage girls who flirted with them.
    Men over 60 camping with scouts with no prior experience as a scouter.

    We claim to be the “Family Centered Church.” (I know of few churches that are not family centered.) Yet we make it a lie when we take the parents of the largest families and require them to effectively work another full-time church job away from their children and spouses. One way for it to stop is for parents to put their children first and refuse to accept callings that seriously jeopardize their family responsibilities.

  27. Eliza on October 3, 2008 at 5:44 am

    Back to the misquoting: a nod to the fabulous editing section of the curriculum department at the Church Office Building, where I used to work a few years ago…those editors work very hard and spend LOTS of time tracking down and verifying sources, particularly for conference talks and curriculum manuals. I’m glad that this quote was finally corrected so many years ago and that in a general meeting it was quoted correctly. (I didn’t know about the difference but am glad to know now.)

  28. Eliza on October 3, 2008 at 5:45 am

    Back to the misquoting: a nod to the fabulous editing section of the curriculum department at the Church Office Building, where I used to work a few years ago…those editors work very hard and spend LOTS of time tracking down and verifying sources, particularly for conference talks and curriculum manuals. General authorities and general auxiliary leaders have a lot going on in their lives and callings and don’t–or can’t–always get all the details correct the first time around in their writings. I’m glad that this quote was finally corrected so many years ago and that in a general meeting it was quoted correctly. (I didn’t know about the difference but am glad to know now.)

  29. Kylie Turley on October 3, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Good point, Eliza. I have a few friends up in editing with church magazines–they do amazing work. And your point is well taken; some mistakes are just that: mistakes–not specifically targeted messages. I know that I make my fair share of them!