Divining Rod, Gift of Aaron, or Both?

I am highly confused about the editing of the Book of Commandments into the D&C. Surely you’re aware that the D&C and its revelations is not in its original form. Some changes are typography or orthography, but others are meaningful, contextual, revelation-altering changes.

There is an issue about the current status of D&C 8:6 and Oliver Cowdery’s divining rod.

Compare the two official LDS links below. One that claims Oliver’s rod was a gift of God whereas the other claims his “Gift of Aaron” was of God.

Book of Commandments:

Doctrine & Covenants:

Those sympathetic to Mormonism say the gift of Aaron is a companionship gift like Aaron, brother of Moses displayed in Exodus.

D&C 8 approves a rod only for sacred information. It also suggests the rod that displayed God’s power in the Egyptian plagues, in striking the rock for life-giving water or in calling down strength on Israel’s warriors. That rod was a straight shaft, the shepherd’s staff possessed by Moses at his call (Ex. 4:2-4). Used by both Moses and Aaron, it was foremost the “rod of God,” also Moses’ rod, but formally called the “rod of Aaron.” It functioned as a visible sign of authority, just as Judah’s “scepter” was a sign of divine kingship in Jacob’s blessing or Elijah’s staff held by the servant who went in his name. Thus the rod of Aaron was a staff of delegated agency, and the 1835 revision to “The gift of Aaron” suggests Oliver’s spiritual power to assist Joseph Smith as Aaron assisted Moses. [REF]

Those unsympathetic to Mormonism say Cowdery’s interest and practice in “folk magic” attracted him to Joseph Smith’s interest and practice of “folk magic”. (Fold Magic is a charged term, and should be generally described and physical manifestations through physical objects; however, that term is very long.)

I suppose if one believes all the craziness in the Bible, a modern-day divining rod isn’t that far-fetched.

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man. [REF]

However, if one is skeptical of the seemingly unnatural occurrences in the Bible, then it makes no sense to believe in Cowdery’s rod or Smith’s peepstone.

How does one reconcile a belief in an all-powerful God with the distrust of what appears to be folk tales in scriptures? That’s the question I need answered.

Additional links:








RE: I’m Not Struggling. I’m Just Different. by Rational Faiths

Before I starting thinking differently about religion, I took a vacation from it. It started one day when I decided that, as a divorced person, I no longer wanted to restrain and suppress my sexuality. I was at my sexual prime, and gall-darnit, I was going to make the most of it. At that point, I found myself at a place where I needed to humbly beg forgiveness or enjoy the new found freedom. I chose the latter. My belief system didn’t change, I just stopped going to church. It was easy to avoid the radar because singles wards are shit-show to be brief (see YSA Wards – Single Segregation Syndrome).

When I decided I wanted to come back to church, I wanted to do it slowly, but I kind of got impulsed to return more quickly than I wanted to (long story). However, my reluctance was magnified by my recent interest in Church history that a friend of mine implanted several years back. This led to some amateurishly exhausting research that led me to question a thing or two. That led me to reject several callings, and I usually don’t answer questions due to fear of letting the cat out of the bag.

I am very open about my feelings with my spouse, but we’d like to be sealed. Therefore, I don’t want the mark of “unbeliever/heretic/sinner” stamped on my forehead as I’m going through the sealing of a two divorcees. So, there I am, in the shadows, unable to speak my mind about things that are wrong or need debate. Although I did say something about the opposing votes in Elders’ Quorum, and I got several disapproving glares.

So when I read James Patterson’s post “I’m Not Struggling. I’m Just Different.” on Rational Faiths, I felt a longing to be who he is being.

I will embrace a new discipleship of Jesus Christ that includes rejecting ecclesiastical authority when/where appropriate, loving service more than rote attendance, and embracing those who are the most outcast of our religious society. I will dine with Mormonism’s publicans and stand in defense Mormonism’s harlots.

In embracing this new approach to faith that seems foreign to so many who share my religion, I will make no apologies for being a “radical” Mormon in the same sense that Jesus of Nazareth was a radical Jew.

Oh, I like the radical Jew line. I often think of Martin Luther when doctrinal issues are raised and think of how we praise him, yet martyr his contemporaries. RIP John Dehlin.

But most of all, I will be humble and recognize that I don’t have all the answers and likely never will. I will embrace love, compassion and kindness as the answers to most of life’s difficult questions.

This line says it all. Why did Joseph Smith embrace polygamy? Why did Brigham Young teach Adam-God? Who cares. I’m too busy trying to be more loving and compassionate with the Mormon publicans and harlots.

Revelations: Foundational vs Directional

I’d like to share a letter I asked a good friend of mine. I’ll share the response in the comments later. How would you respond to my email?


You describe Joseph Smith’s revelations as foundational and subsequent revelations a directional. Here’s my question:

How did the 20th century prophets ask and not get an answer about blacks/priesthood? David McKay asked and didn’t get any revelation to correct the situation. Yet, Joseph Smith asked questions all the time and got answers even to seemingly unimportant questions like in section D&C 40, which are pretty much pointless but nevertheless God offered a timely response. Why can’t modern prophets get that kind of turnaround with God?

Even the method seems so different.

David McKay’s biography says, “In 1954 President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared for change.” (ref)

The committee method is much different than Joseph Smith’s direct method asking himself and getting a response.

I’ve heard a comparison to the Children of Israel having the lower law due to their unpreparedness/rejection of the higher law. However, this was neither a law nor a supported doctrine. It was not implemented by God and then removed by Him like the law of consecration and polygamy.

Even if the priesthood ban was secretly implemented by God through a secret revelation to BY, there would still be problems with the “unprepared” argument. My internal counter argument is that the saints weren’t prepared for either Law of Consecration or polygamy but those got thrust on the saints regardless. So the “lower law” line of thinking is not consistent historically.

The point is this: when I hear foundational vs directional revelation arguments, I find it directional revelation more likely to be social pressure vs revelation. Polygamy was not socially convenient, so it seems more like a revelation. Disavowing it seemed socially convenient. Instituting a ban on blacks/priesthood was socially convenient due to the political climate in Utah. It was the only territory that allowed black slaves (ref). Disavowing previous positions regarding blacks/priesthood seems socially convenient in post civil rights America.

But my own counter argument is that sometimes the Lord lets his people do what is socially convenient, like having a king instead of judges like in 1 Samuel 8. If so, the selective nature of God’s blessings comes back into play.

In other words, I am enamored by the thought of prophetic leadership but am clouded in my understanding of modern prophetic leadership examples. I get that God has a history of being exclusive, and there are plenty of biblical examples, especially Christ’s limited ministry to the Jew and then lifting of the preaching ban to include all Gentiles. But none of that came from parallel social pressure from what I can tell. Maybe I’m wrong.

So as I prepare for this talk about prophets, and I consider the role of modern prophets, I am just trying to come to grips with a concept that I have struggled with for some time. I suppose you may not have the magic answer, but it’s something that I just don’t get.


RE: A Plea to Seminary Teachers and Parents by FairMormon

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Mormon youth seminaries are now getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Polygamy… or are they?

FairMormon Blog just announced the changes to seminary manuals regarding D&C 132 split into two lessons (here and here). Some notes on the touchy aspects of D&C 132 and history: FairMormon states “Students will not be taught that Joseph married women without Emma’s knowledge. Parents may, however, want to discuss this with their children, as the LDS Gospel Topics essay on Nauvoo polygamy covers this concern.”

A big gaping hole among a sea of gopher holes is discussed in the essay:

The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage. Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife “receive not this law”—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be “exempt from the law of Sarah,” presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women. After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma’s rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to “receive not this law” permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent.

This references the scripture in D&C 132:61

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

If I were teaching seminary, I just might want some better material in case this came up. As a member of the Mormon church, I CERTAINLY want more information how this rule got skirted. I applaud the Mormon church for being more forthcoming about difficult facts, but perhaps they may consider having an official answer to Joseph’s non-adherence to the rules while expecting members to exercise exact obedience and punishing those who skirt as well.

May God bless the seminary teachers! Good luck.

How do you feel about those who skirt the rules?

Response to “When Having the Answers is the Wrong Answer” by Rational Faiths

I read a beautiful post today by Paul Barker on Rational Faiths, and then I read an ugly letter from a self-righteous family member who thought shaming my wife for expressing doubts. This family member dropped the Revelations line about being lukewarm and getting spewed. I snapped. I borrowed much of my response from Paul’s post.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Mormonism is the fountain of answers we claim to know: who we are, where we are from, and why we are on earth. However, in claiming to know the answers to life’s big questions and claiming to have a prophet who speaks with God, Mormons fail when answers are not readily available or when answers change. There certainly a lot of apologists who can tell you why Joseph Smith engaged in polygyny and encouraged some of his brides to engage in polyandry, why Brigham Young and several prophets perpetuated spiritual segregation and an outright priesthood/temple ban on blacks, why anachronistic elements appear in the BoM, why there is no female ordination, why God allows for same-sex attraction, etc.; nevertheless, there are no prophetic answers to such puzzling questions.
The Mormon church claims to be the one, true church with Jesus Christ himself at the head leading a living prophets, the mouthpiece of God. Yet, the heavens are silent during a tumultuous time when answers are needed. 135 sections of the D&C were written during Joseph Smith’s ministry; five have been written in the 119 years since.
Some may say, “Well, we have General Conference and the Ensign!”
I say, show me where is says, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Some may say, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (ref)
I say, there are scores of statements said by prophets that the Mormon church has disavowed, so that is not very applicable.
This can leave people uncertain about their feelings toward the Mormon church without necessarily affecting how they feel about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘Fallibility’ is term that has been tossed around in religious conversation recently to indicate that Mormon prophets have been and will be subject to human weaknesses and failures. As [NAME] pointed out, there are some obvious red flags in Mormon church history, but she chooses to believe and expects that the facts will be cleared up whether in this life or the next. That demonstrates how she exercises her faith.
“For all have not every gift given unto them… To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know… To others it is given to believe on their words… To another is given the word of knowledge…”
This scripture points out that we are all individuals, and there is no cookie-cutter path to think, act, or become. In Utah, if a person is white, married, endowed, a Republican, has the gift of faith, and has a temple recommend, life is pretty good as a Mormon. But if someone is single, has a tattoo, is without a recommend, is LGBT, is not-white, lacks the gift of faith, questions, or is skeptical, life can get pretty hairy.
I have seen first-hand how “good Mormons” marginalized my dark-skinned mother at church, and it is very sad. I have also seen first-hand my wife being called a Samaritan in Sunday School because she has tattoos  followed by a warning to all mothers not to let their kids mingle with Samaritans. All in the heart of Zion.
Self-righteous Mormons who look down on those who do not fit “the mold” are one of the worst kinds of people. In fact, they remind me of the Pharisees who Jesus described that “outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Whether you look down on someone because of their race, worthiness, orientation, spirituality, or body art, you are clearly out of line with the second great commandment: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Shunning and shaming are not acceptable. Quoting Revelations and comparing someone to vomit is not an effective way to show God’s love and inclusiveness.
“Because God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (ISV)
I hope we can adjust our attitudes and stop seeing the Gospel like a BYU-Utah rivalry. In the Gospel, there is no room for hating, shaming, or self-righteousness. We are not here to judge, rather, we are here to love. If you’re doing the hating/shaming/self-righteous snubbing, then you’re missing the point, and, by definition, you’re not even close to being “all-in.
In sum, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (To Kill a Mockingbird). If you do not understand why someone would view the world in grays rather than black and white, step out of your comfort zones and into the hated unknown to find out why. But if you disagree, do it with love.
I must, must, must include the response I received from another relative in the email chain. It was too perfect:
If a member of the LDS church is so embarrassed or ashamed of the LDS history and doctrine, opposes certain core elements and basics of the LDS church, believes that too many LDS members suffer from cognitive dissonance, are judgmental, hateful, shaming, self-righteous and so forth, believes that he is more enlightened than the Prophet and the 12 and/or can interpret scriptures and guidance from God better than them, then that person owes it to himself to leave the church, and to do it completely – i.e. write a letter and have his name removed from the church records.  I could not remain in an organization that I disagreed with so much and caused me such feelings, and I don’t understand how/why some do.  To leave completely – that is respectable.  Not to be a petulant child by lecturing, “judging” and casting hateful dispersions at women who are clearly above reproach . To remain in what must be a personally toxic situation indicates a profound degree of self loathing.
Well, thank you, kind sir, for proving my point about the epidemic of marginalization over love.

Response to “Where’d Everybody Go?” by Pure Mormonism

Rock Waterman, author of the blog Pure Mormonism, is a name to be had for good and bad in the greater Mormon community. (His positions have been summarized nicely by John Dehlin here.) I can’t say I agree with Rock on everything, but he does make some points that are sound and resonate with me. Rock nailed a few points that require response in his latest article “Where’d Everybody Go?”:

I hear from members who are being threatened with discipline all the time, whether it’s a young mother admitting to giving her own child a blessing in her own home; or someone asking a simple question such as, “if the current President of the Church is said to be a prophet, seer, and revelator the same as Joseph Smith, why doesn’t he ever present revelations to the church the way Joseph Smith did?” (ref.)

To avoid repetition from my previous comments on prophecyless-prophets, let me focus on this point from Rock: the Mormon Church has set its heavy hand of top-down authority on its members, and through recent excommunication/discipline events (here, here, and here), it has established that variation from correlation is a bulls-eye for shaming and punishment. I believe this is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith had in mind, in Volume 5 of the History of the Church, when he said:

I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (ref)

How can Mormons in good conscious sit by and let their brothers and sisters get punished for that which Joseph Smith himself declared to be something which should not be done? Another reminder from Joseph Smith, this time from the Doctrine & Covenants:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the natureand disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (ref)

Enough with this. Priesthood leaders have overstepped their boundaries. And the D&C is very clear what happens when Priesthood leader cross the line:

…but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (ref.; emphasis added)

When Prophets Don’t Prophecy & The Absentee God

A God who is obscure in explanation and absentee in governance must have a broad definition of success.” -alotlikelaman

I empathize with Atheists. I understand Agnostics. Chistians don’t have as high of expectations. But Mormons, you are the ones I’m wondering about. How do you deal with your absentee God? Do you know who I’m talking about? That God who was ever so present during the good ol’ days when Brother Joseph and Him were talking all the time. Over 100 chapters in the Doctrine and Covenants (yes, I know they’re called ‘sections’), but then, after the death of Brother Joseph, a long silence. It was almost like the silence after the death of the Jesus’ apostles. The Mormon Church claims a direct channel of revelation, a bat-phone of sorts, to God, and this uniqueness gives it claim to the title of the Living Church, with Jesus Christ himself at the head. But what happens when God stops talking to His church?

Mormons keep the revelations received by their prophets in a book called the Doctrine and Covenants. Currently there are 138 recorded revelations given over the course of roughly 87 years:

The 138 sections in LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants break down as follows:


135 sections written during Brother Joseph’s ministry. 5 have since been registered. Where did that God who spoke so frequently and eloquently go? The thought of modern prophets who could utter the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord” was so powerful and inspiring. Yet the absence of the same strikes a similarly powerful chord.

I wish our prophets would come back and tell us something more inspiring than avoid tattoos or avoid multiple piercings. Tell us what God only knows. Tell us if God has a Spouse or many. Tell us why women can’t be ordained. Tell us why Brother Joseph kept Polygamy from his wife. Tell us why Brother Joseph often drank alcohol but we cannot. Tell us why the Church excommunicates free thinking intellectuals. When God is absent from talking to us, shouldn’t we be free to think how we choose until His word is revealed? Don’t punish us because He refuses to comment.

What are your thoughts on God’s absence, modern revelation, or excommunication?