Duty to our Kindred Dead

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to speak at church, an opportunity I sought because I am trying to earn the Personal Progress award along with my daughters. I told Brother Zirkle I didn’t care what topic he assigned me, or what week I might speak. He asked me to talk on August 22 about our duty to our kindred dead, suggesting President Henry B. Eyring’s conference address of April 2005 titled, “Hearts Bound Together.”

This is the talk I gave.

Brother Zirkle asked me to talk about our Duty to Our Kindred Dead.

I feel impressed to tell you about the struggle Joseph Smith had to build the temples and begin the redemption of the dead. It is a story of a hero who struggled against terrible obstacles to save the world. It is a story of how Joseph loved my ancestor. It is a story of why I am alive as you see me today.

The first time we see the term “temple” in modern revelation is in December 1830 where the Lord says,

I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God; wherefore, gird up your loins and I will suddenly come to my temple. Even so. Amen. [D&C 36:8]

Joseph Smith was then translating Genesis in the Old Testament. While he was translating the stories about Abraham and Isaac he received a revelation about marriage and the need to restore plural marriage.

The revelation troubled Joseph. How do we know? Because he refused to write it down. But he would later explain that was when he first received the revelation about the New and Everlasting Covenant, while he was translating the Bible.

That March God tried to reason with Joseph, in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 45, saying:

I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people,

16 And I will … fulfil the promises that I have made unto your fathers
17 I will show unto you how the day of redemption [of the dead] shall come, and also the restoration of scattered Israel.

Then the Lord told Joseph to start translating the New Testament, saying, “in [the New Testament] all these things shall be made known.”

For a year Joseph poured over the gospels, seeking God’s wisdom. Finally Joseph found what God wanted him to find. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were translating the gospel of John, chapter 5, where Jesus says:

The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they who hear shall live.

…all who are in their graves shall hear his voice,

And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.

While Joseph and Sidney Rigdon meditated upon these things, the Lord opened up a great vision of the fate of souls after this life, and the three degrees of glory.

The vision showed those in the highest heaven, or Celestial kingdom, were those who receive the testimony of Jesus, and believe on his name and are baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.

The members of the church were asked to consecrate their properties to build a temple.

In those early days it seemed Satan attacked every time Joseph tried to restore another bit of the full gospel. Just weeks after the glorious vision, a mob captured Joseph and Sidney and nearly killed them.

But Joseph and the Saints did not give up. They gathered resources to build the temple, despite all opposition. On Palm Sunday, 1836, the Kirtland temple was dedicated.

Joseph thought his work was done.

The next week was Easter Sunday. There are curtains in the Kirtland temple to separate the great hall into smaller chambers. After the sacrament, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were secluded by these curtains and bowed themselves in prayer next to the pulpit.

To their astonishment, A great and glorious vision burst upon them. Elijah the prophet stood before them, and said:

14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that Elijah should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

After this vision, Joseph stopped writing in his journal for two years. The great revelation and the restoration of the sealing power would not be published until after Joseph’s death, after Oliver Cowdery had left the church, when no one still remembered that Elijah returned on Easter, at passover, just as God’s prophets had foretold since the days of Moses. [Check the preface to D&C 110 – it says nothing about the fact that day was Easter.]

Why would Joseph keep this secret? Probably because Joseph had been reminded he had not restored plural marriage. The good Christian people of Joseph’s day practiced strict monogamy as had the Romans. Strict monogamy had been mandated by the Roman Catholic church for hundreds of years. All the protestant churches taught strict monogamy.

Even though Joseph wouldn’t teach plural marriage, he did try to teach about eternal marriage. One early saint, William W. Phelps, wrote his wife. “Sally, you will be mine in this world and in the world to come… I have no right to any other woman in this world nor in the world to come according to the law of the Celestial Kingdom.”

Imagine a world where faithful widows and widowers couldn’t remarry.

Few of us really think about what would have happened if Joseph hadn’t restored plural marriage. It’s like how you don’t notice air until you’re suffocating. How you don’t value light until it’s dark.

Imagine a world where a loved ancestor couldn’t be sealed to her husband because he was already sealed to another. Imagine a world where the children of women who couldn’t be sealed are considered eternal orphans, never to be connected into the family of mankind.

The Greeks have a tragic myth about a man who was granted immortality, without eternal youth.

In my own family, I found an example of what can happen when people accept eternal marriage without accepting plural marriage.

It started four years after the sealing power was restored. 170 years ago this week [which was August 22, 2010] Joseph finally preached that baptism could be performed on behalf of our kindred dead.

When Joseph revealed the vision of the three kingdoms of glory, he was tarred and feathered. When Joseph built the temple and received the sealing power, all the Saints were driven from Ohio, then from Missouri.

When Joseph finally revealed baptism for the dead, it took Satan only three days to raise a mob to attack Nauvoo. They came up the river from Missouri despite a fierce summer storm. They made it to Water Street, where the Smiths lived. The broke into the cabin they found there. Within minutes the cabin was in flames and the mother and infant were terribly wounded.

But the mob had attacked the wrong cabin. Instead of attacking Emma Smith and her infant, they had attacked Marietta Holmes, wife of a simple cobbler, Jonathan. Jonathan is my ancestor.

The Smiths opened their home to Jonathan and his injured wife. Joseph surely comforted Jonathan and his wife with the promise that their family could be together in eternity, though death might part them on earth.

Marietta and her baby died.

Jonathan and his surviving child, Sarah, became part of the Smith household. Sarah played at Joseph’s knee along with the Smith children. She took lessons from the governess along with the Smith children. She snitched cookies from the cook along with the Smith children.

Jonathan mourned Marietta as the days became weeks and then months, and Joseph saw Jonathan had no intention of marrying again. In Jonathan’s mind, he was still married to Marietta, and could not marry another.

It took years for Joseph to convince Jonathan to marry. Jonathan eventually allowed Joseph to perform a ceremony wedding him to 29-year-old Elvira Annie Cowles, who was the Smith governess. This was back in the old days when all healthy, affectionate couples had children nine months after marriage and every two years thereafter.

But Annie didn’t get pregnant. Not the first month. Not the first year. Not the second year.

If Annie had never had kids, we would assume she was barren.

But in the fall of 1845, Annie had her first child. Somehow in the months following the martyrdom, Jonathan was finally convinced to become a true husband to his second wife. Annie continued to have children like clockwork until she was into her forties. Their last child was my great-great-grandmother. But it’s pretty clear that Annie remained childless in those early years because it took Jonathan that long to actually, really accept plural marriage, even though we don’t think of a widower remarrying as “plural marriage.”

In the 1900s, when President Joseph F. Smith was firmly and finally ending the practice of plural marriage, he talked about Joseph Smith, and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff. These were the prophets who asked the saints to live plural marriage across the fifty years it was required of the Saints.

President Joseph F. Smith explained that these prophets [had been] laying the foundations of the great latter-day work, [i]ncluding the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead… (D&C 138: 53, 54)

They did what they did to fulfill the promises made to the fathers, so that we would know that every father and every mother and every child should be sealed up as part of the family of mankind. That the hearts of the children might turn to their fathers. I testify that we will see our kindred dead in the world to come. If we have sought them out and made sure their ordinances are performed, we will be hailed with gratitude. If we do nothing, we will feel their terrible disappointment.

I testify that God lives, that Christ is our redeemer, and the redeemer of all who receive the testimony of Jesus, whether in this world or the world hereafter. I testify that our kindred dead may receive the required ordinances of baptism in the water in Christ’s name, the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands, and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. And I testify that we have a solemn obligation to help in this work, that our kindred yet in bondage may be redeemed, should they accept the proxy ordinances we perform on their behalf.

2 Responses to “Duty to our Kindred Dead”

  1. Pat Chiu Says:

    Hmmmmm. Interesting way to tell the story without bringing out the major reason that Jonathan and Elvira probably didn’t consummate their marriage.

  2. Meg Stout Says:

    But Jonathan was Elvira Annie’s husband 6 months before “the major reason [they] probably didn’t consummate their marriage.”

    It was only a 10 minute talk, far too short to digress. I did purchase the URL wivesofjosephsmith.info to house my notes about the facts and possibilities of what was happening in Nauvoo – i.e., how Brigham Young and Emma Smith could have both been right.

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