Friday, August 7, 2020

D&C 28: Hands Off, These Revelations Are Mine

Okay, so now we're at a semi-infamous section that references Hiram Page's unapproved seer stone prophecies.  If this section were an episode of Scrubs, it would be called My Revelatory Rival. If it were an episode of Friends, it would be titled The One Where Joseph Lays the Smack Down on Hiram for Challenging his Authority.

The Robin to My Batman
Since a key member of Joseph Smith's inner sanctum had been duped by Hiram's off-the-books prophecies, a lot of this chapter involves setting Oliver Cowdery straight too (verses 3-4):

But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.

And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
See what he does there?  He tries to boost Oliver's ego a bit while he's chewing him out.  Joseph is the only one who's allowed to get doctrinal revelation from God, so you have to listen to him and only him—but you're basically the Aaron to his Moses, so that's pretty great, right?  

It's like a backhanded compliment from the Almighty himself.

When is a Lamanite Not a Lamanite?
By verse 8, God's cooled off a bit.  Instead of continuing to try framing a rebuke as a morale booster, he moves on to giving Oliver something to do:
And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.
While calling Oliver on a mission, God reminds him again that he's not officially a revelator and that he should speak from his own wisdom and not by way of commandment.  That's rough.

But what I'd like to focus on is the use of the word "Lamanite" in a specifically nineteenth-century context.  This section, like many others, is written in God's own voice and presented as the actual words provided to Joseph Smith.  So when God used the word "Lamanite," he was speaking about then-present-day people.

This was, of course, long before human scientific understanding had gained any kind of facility with DNA.  This means it was before the editions of the Book of Mormon in which the introduction would declare that Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the Native Americans.  And, of course, this section was also revealed long before that introduction was changed to clarify that Lamanites are "among the ancestors of the American Indians."

But God said "Lamanites" when referring to groups of indigenous Americans who, according to DNA studies, have no genetic connections to the part of the world to which the Book of Mormon assigns their genesis.  And while the church hasn't really tried to deny that Oliver Cowdery (and other early missionaries) traveled to Native American settlements to fulfill these mission calls, it does try to weasel around with the language a bit:
The Church’s first major mission, in 1830, was to groups considered to be Lamanites.
"Considered" is past tense and implies that we know differently now.  That phrasing also takes an agnostic approach to a link between Native Americans and Lamanites—it's not saying there's a link, but it's not not saying there's a link. Which is a sly and kind of dishonest thing to do, considering what the church has taught on this subject in the past.  But it sure does help cover the bases so that this essay won't be contradicted by any future relevant genetic discoveries.

Now, I suppose it's possible that God knew all along whether Native Americans were the literal descendants of Lamanites.  He historically hasn't been a great communicator, so maybe when he called Oliver on this mission, he wanted him to preach to one specific tribe that actually has some kind of genetic connection with ancient Jerusalem.  But I don't think that theory holds up.  Because within the canon of Mormonism, God is actually pretty good at communicating when someone's actions have displeased him.  Have you tried to escape a command to preach the gospel?  A great fish will swallow you and you'll have three days in its guts to think about what you did.  Have you been running around with the sons of Mosiah trying to destroy the church?  An angel will put you in a coma.  Are you trying to kick the snot out of your brother who insists on risking everyone's lives to steal some brass plates from Laban?  An angel will appear and tell you to knock it off.  Are you hesitant to follow a divine directive to take multiple young wives?  An angel with a drawn sword will threaten to destroy you for disobedience.  Are you not the official prophet but you're still claiming to use a stone to receive revelation from God?  There's gonna be a section of codified scripture in the Lord's own words explaining why that shit doesn't fly.

But if God sends you on a mission to the Lamanites and you preach in Kansas and Oklahoma when God really meant for you to go to some secluded tribe in some remote corner of Arizona, he'll totally let that slide, right?

Oliver went exactly where this revelation told him to.  Don't let Mormonism pretend like Native Americans and Lamanites aren't doctrinally one and the same.

Personal Devilation
Verses 11-13 open up some uncomfortable avenues of discussion on the topic of revelation:
And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;

For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.

For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
This makes it pretty clear that the supernatural communications Hiram Page received did not come from God.  They were from Satan.  How are we supposed to trust in our answers to our prayers and in our personal revelations when the scriptures remind us how easy it is to receive things from Satan that can be honestly and easily mistaken for things from God?

Because the only real thing cited as evidence that this is from Satan (other than God says so) is that this kind of revelation is not "appointed unto" Hiram Page.  Which means that Hiram can know his new doctrine isn't real because he's not the prophet.  And that's all well and good for Hiram, but that doesn't help Mormons who receive personal revelation for their stewardships over their own families.  Parents do have those things appointed to them.  How are they supposed to know if or when they've been deceived by Satan?
The last thing this passage leaves us with is that pesky concept of common consent, which this whole section kind of contradicts.  Who's to say Hiram Page's revelations shouldn't be adopted as doctrine?  God, through Joseph Smith alone.  Who decides where the gospel should be preached and by whom?  God, through Joseph Smith alone.  All things must be done in order, but there's no common consent here.  

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