Finally, our little series begins to move into something that is vaguely recognizable as modern Correlation. Parts 1-5 of the series are available here, here, here, here, and here. Daymon’s dissertation can be found and read here.
Brad: So we finished off last time with an allusion to the Short Creek raids and the LDS Church’s support of it.
Daymon: Even before then, you’ve got J. Reuben Clark and Hugh B. Brown who help write a much more punitive law against unlawful cohabitation, where now it’s a felony rather than a misdemeanor. This is part of what really galvanizes and reinvigorates the resistance movement in 1935. I personally think that if they hadn’t started to throw these guys in jail, some for up to five years—in other words if they hadn’t effectively stepped into the role of the persecuting federal government against the Underground, which of course made it all the clearer to 1930s Fundamentalists that they indeed were a continuation of True Mormonism, persecuted for righteousness by an apostate people—if they hadn’t done this, who knows what might have been avoided. But any impulse that might have been there toward rapprochement with the mainstream Church was now gone for good. The lines have been drawn, and there’s just now way these guys are ever going to reconcile and play nice again.
Brad: Nobody thinks they’re being winked at anymore.
Daymon: If they’re being winked at at this point, it’s to lure them into prison. So at that point Mormon Fundamentalism really starts to take on its own cultural logic, goes off on its own trajectory, but it doesn’t stop affecting the way things run with the LDS Church.
Brad: Because the LDS Church, LDS leaders, and LDS thinkers are wrestling with the questions that the whole protracted entanglement with the emerging Fundamentalism has raised. The most pressing of which is, What is priesthood? And what is the nature of the relationship between priesthood and an organization called the Church? Fundamentalists believe that there isn’t a direct relationship, or, more accurately, that the relationship is one where the Church is dependant, depends for its existence on priesthood, and not the other way around. Priesthood is backwardly and forwardly eternal, it precedes the Church and is the foundation upon which the Church rests.
Daymon: And there’s plenty of evidence for this position. In 1829 the priesthood, the authority to hold the keys of the administering of angels and to baptize has to come back before the Church can be organized. There are questions about the dating of the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood is restored, which today are so complicated because we have changed the way we use these words, like “priesthood” and “the priesthood.” But there’s good reason for these folks to believe that priesthood both precedes and supersedes the Church.
Brad: And there really isn’t anything at stake with this question until LDS leaders and thinkers start trying to define and clarify the nature of their relationship to polygamists, of the Church’s relationship to them, of competing notions of authority. These questions get brought front and center in the exchange between Musser and Joseph Fielding Smith. Smith is arguing that Musser no longer has his priesthood, by virtue of his having been excommunicated. Being cut off from the Church, as he understands it, strips you of priesthood. Your having the priesthood depends upon your standing within the Church. Musser is arguing that he still has his priesthood, that a man’s priesthood does not depend for its existence on that man’s relationship to an institution, since the institution depends for its legitimate existence on the existence of priesthood. For Smith, the Church is an eternal organization and priesthood exists for its sake. For Musser, it’s priesthood that’s eternal, regardless of whether there is a church or what it looks like.
Daymon: By 1939 John Widtsoe, really in response to these questions, which articulate themselves on a personal and specific level in the Musser-Smith letters, but which underlie all efforts to clarify the boundaries between monogamist and polygamist Mormons, these questions about priesthood—in response to all this Widtsoe issues Priesthood and Church Government.
Brad: Which is a priesthood manual.
Daymon: It’s used in Church really as a corrective to these confusions which had been introduced by these polygamous groups.
Brad: These apostates, these cults.
Daymon: These people who are confused and confusing everything. And you only get a Mormon Fundamentalism because there is so much confusion in the first place, well before something recognizable as Fundamentalism ever enters the picture. You can’t really blame them for confusing the issue. This confusion had gone back at least to the 1880s.
Brad: So Widtsoe’s job now is to clarify things, to erase confusion. To draw a clear line and delineate a notion of priesthood that positions it in a proper relationship to the Church as an organization, an institution, an administrative hierarchy.
Daymon: With the added task of demonstrating that things had always been like this, from the very beginning. So his compilation consists of basically stringing together a bunch of decontextualized quotations from various Church leaders, past and present. But if you read it carefully, the only quotations that actually assert that there is this intimate connection between priesthood and Church that can never be taken apart are, in fact, written by and attributed to none other than John Widtsoe.
Brad: He’s quoting himself, and apostle, as an authority.
Daymon: This becomes a standard method for shoring up one’s doctrinal authority. You simply quote yourself as someone having authority. And the act of quoting yourself as authoritative actually helps create and reaffirm that very authority. You’ll see Joseph Fielding Smith doing this as well. He quotes himself, or really himself quoting his father. McConkie does the same thing. But Widtsoe’s really the first guy to sort of master this art, where, because it’s a compilation, he hides his own identity behind the mishmash of quotes, merging his own voice in with the generic one voiced collectively through the other included quotations. These are disembodied statements of divine truth, they have no time or place, they’re just things that are true by virtue of existing, as if Widtsoe had just pulled down the ideal forms of priesthood from this Platonic realm, and stuck them together in a book.
Brad: And all these individual statements correlate with each other.
Daymon: And they all speak to the same basic truth, which is that you cannot have the priesthood independently of the Church.
Brad: The Fundamentalists who claim to have priesthood but have been cut off as apostates are wrong, because, as the quotes—especially the ones authored by Widtsoe but interspliced in seamless continuity with all these other timeless quotes about the nature of priesthood—make clear, the moment you lose your Church membership you lose your priesthood. Priesthood is dependent on the organization of the Church.
Daymon: Right, you check it at the door. If you want to leave, fine. But you can’t take that with you. But if you read Widtsoe’s work really carefully, paying attention to the dates when the various quotes were published—this inclusion of dates which has the tendency to anchor the quotations to specific time is a mistake that more savvy correlationists will avoid in the future—there are a number of statements, particularly older ones, that, on their own, seem to make it pretty clear that it’s the Church that depends on the priesthood, not vice versa.
Brad: Really until the 1930s.
Daymon: Then they start to invert the relationship, to reverse the flow of dependency. They say that holding the priesthood depends upon your membership in the Church. And this really is the first period that such claims are made. And they’re made in response to the emerging Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism would really have a lasting effect on the organization of the LDS Church, in particular the formalization and standardization of this claim about Church and priesthood. Now, another question is, what do we even mean by “priesthood”? This is something which is not at all clear yet. It’s a word that people use, and you’d think that everyone knows what it means. In the 19th century, when they said “THE priesthood” they were generally referring to the governing quorums of the Church, the apostles, maybe the 70s, the first presidency.
Brad: Like we use the term “the Brethren” today.
Daymon: Exactly. It’s almost a perfect equivalent. And if you read some of the statements on priesthood from John Taylor or Brigham Young, they also talked about a certain kind of power, that goes along with it, which is the power to create. It was certainly not restricted to the performance of what we now typically call ordinances, what they would have probably called performances. Ordinances were generally spoken of as rules.
Brad: Like a city ordinance.
Daymon: Temple ordinances, it was generally understood, meant the covenants taken on.
Brad: The rules you agreed to abide by.
Daymon: The performance of these things was of course a priesthood function, and the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were intimately bound up with the performance of the endowment. So this question of what was meant by “the priesthood” is something which Widtsoe sets out to find and clarify. He’s got one of these minds that can’t really deal with these sorts of ambiguities, a really lawyerly cognitive style, and he says his task is to clarify what “the priesthood” means because all these people are falling into adultery precisely because they don’t understand that you cannot dissociate or uncouple the power of the priesthood from the group of guys whom we call “The Priesthood.”
Brad: Or “the Brethren,” or “the priesthood Brethren.”
Daymon: Today, after the sacrament is completed, the bishop will stand and thank “the priesthood.” And of course we understand that he isn’t talking about the power, about priesthood as an abstract noun. We assume that he’s talking about this group of guys.
Brad: Like an order. We say the order of the priesthood, but here it’s something like a fraternal order, a group.
Daymon: This is something I address at great length in my analysis of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church John Taylor manual. Priesthood gets revised by taking John Taylor’s words about the priesthood order and sort of re-ordering them, as it were, in the image of this sort of post-Fundamentalist notion of the priesthood.
Brad: So due to Widtsoe’s influence, “priesthood” acquires two new forms of syntactic purchase, two new kinds of grammatical “slots” into which “priesthood” can be placed when you talk about it. No longer is it limited in its reference to just divine power or to the governing quorums—what we now call the Brethren. It now has two new referents. One new way you can use the term is that we now use “priesthood” as a modifier or an adjective.
Daymon: And that would really take off under Lee’s influence, with “priesthood Correlation.” About which more to come.
Brad: Correlation proper will occupy the attention of our conversation beginning with our next installment and from there on out. But back to “priesthood,” in addition to using it as an adjective, because it is much more strongly associated with and impossible to uncouple from the Church, priesthood will come to be a synonym for an administrative, organizational, bureaucratic hierarchy. It comes to refer to an internal, central organizational structure and administrative authority.
Daymon: And it’s here, at this moment, that they really begin to re-chart or re-diagram themselves in the image of a modern corporation, with all the lines of authority, administrative lines, and carefully charted relationships. This whole structure becomes, sort of steps in as the thing referred to by the term “the Priesthood,” as a non-abstract noun. And so this new thing—it really is a new thing—they begin to call the priesthood wasn’t the Brethren, wasn’t the power; it was this group of administrators, which included most of the Brethren, that really were, in a sense, also the Church. It was Church organization and organizational lines of authority just like in any other corporation or business, so there’s nothing unusual about it per se. And these positions, of course, were restricted to men only. And that restriction supports the slippage that makes “priesthood” refer to this administrative hierarchy. This is a new thing that lays the foundation, finally, for Harold B. Lee to step in and introduce what he calls “priesthood correlation.”
Brad: And this isn’t going to happen in earnest for still more than a decade.
Daymon: Right. But Lee at this time, in the 1930s, has in his stake many, many people who are being led astray by Fundamentalists. So he’s got first hand experience with excommunicating people who are making the claim that they still have the priesthood once they’re cut off from the organization.
Brad: And he’s also becoming a very important figure in the structural modernization of Mormonism and in the corporate Church, because he’s being given a lot of administrative authority to implement programs like Church Welfare.
Daymon: So in some sense he starts in the same place where Joe Musser starts—we’ve got a group of people who are starving, how do we meet their basic physical needs and how do we pin on top of that a kind of spiritual hierarchy?
Brad: And Musser’s solution was refuge in the desert, plural marriage, consecration, all anchored to priesthood that is independent of the LDS Church. Where as Lee’s response is corporate bureaucracy, anchored to priesthood which is coming to be understood now more in administrative terms.
Daymon: And Lee’s concern is really with productive efficiency. How do we get stuff from raw resources into people’s stomachs?
Brad: Economistic thinking become really centrally bound up into notions of how the Church should function and operate, everything’s going to be streamlined, and of course all of this is presided over by and, in a certain sense, equivalent to priesthood.
Daymon: The question here is, if we can get people to get in line, the entire productive arm and operation is going to be highly efficient. And how do we get them in line? Priesthood Authority. This becomes a new term. “Priesthood” is a modifier that applies to “authority.” Today, these words are practically synonymous. But this, at the time, is something very new. This is why Lee is, in some sense, the equivalent of Joe Musser.
Brad: Like a Bizarro World version of him.
Daymon: He and Musser are just sort of distorted, carnival versions of each other. Lee is founding, eventually, a new kind of thing called “the Priesthood” that is built upon the back of very tangible practices and of people’s bodies. The same can be said of Musser, but the practices are different: plural marriage, refuge, consecration versus monogamy, assimilation, and corporate capitalism. They’re working with the same kinds of human problems. Musser has people starving and emaciated at Short Creek, they can’t meet their own physical needs, but they really do get in line behind Musser and his authority. Down the road a bit, of course, Fundamentalist will fragment many, many times. And they fragment over this question of authority.
Brad: Folks start to step in and make power grabs.
Daymon: Oh, yeah. Allred comes in, and he’s really a newcomer, but he writes a very popular book that becomes a kind of canonical text for many Fundamentalists. Broadbent comes in as well. But it works with the new logic of Fundamentalism that they’ll always be fragmenting, because there’s always the potential for a secret revelation, for the One Mighty and Strong to rise up, and there’s always some new One Mighty and Strong. But, alternately, this concern over productive efficiency and streamlined authority that can be diagramed on a piece of paper—it simply doesn’t work for the Fundamentalists. But it works gloriously for the Church, once you’ve made the Priesthood equivalent to guys running the Church organization.
Brad: And if there’s one figure who’s on the ascendancy in the 1930s it’s Harold B. Lee, who is in some sense, on the ground level, overseeing this transformation. Basically, Priesthood power is now what animates bureaucracy, what animates the efficient, streamlined, centralized, administrative productive processes in which the Church now engages.
Daymon: The metaphor or analogy that was regular drawn was that the Priesthood was the equivalent of the Spirit to the body. And this was something that Fundamentalists actually articulated first—the Church is the body and the priesthood is the Spirit. They used it to bolster the claim that the Church depended on the priesthood to exist, and not the other way around. So for polygamists, the problem was that the body was dead. But the Spirit can still continue. But Lee and Widtsoe and other leaders obviously view the body as alive, and for them the Spirit will never be permitted to leave the body. Even if the body is dead, decayed, and buried six feet underground, the Spirit can never leave. That’s tongue in cheek, but it’s not far from the kind of argument that they’re making about the relationship between priesthood and Church.
Brad: It’s the dispensation of the fullness of times, the Church can never go into apostasy, it will be here until the end, so the spirit and body can never be separated, almost like the Church is a resurrected being. Church and priesthood are inseparable and equivalent.
Daymon: This is something that I do address in the dissertation, but which I’m trying to focus more on in a project I’m working on now. Legally speaking the Church actually was dead, since 1890. It was disincorporated, it lost its status of legal personhood, it died. This is what motivates the issuance of the Manifesto, and of course at the same time that they issue the Manifesto they also have the saints ratify the Articles of Faith as a binding creed. So in 1890 you really do have the beginnings of the formation of a new Church, a new entity, built upon a new creed, the Articles.
Brad: Which include the imperative to submit to civil and political authority.
Daymon: They put special emphasis on the 12th Article. This was something that they were advised to do by this California lobbying group which they had hired to do some of their back channel politicking. So in 1890 a new kind of Church is organized, but it’s not legally organized as a church. It will be organized as a corporation—a corporation sole—in 1916, the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop is chartered, and in 1923 Grant organizes the Corporation of the President of the Church. And it’s a corporation sole, which is to say that it consists of only one person, with no other membership.
Brad: President Grant is literally, legally, both a person and a corporation. He himself incorporates in his capacity as President of the Church.
Daymon: Which, you might say, is a weird kind of magic or power, that he can now formulate himself as this massively distributed person, an artificial person, a corporation. This becomes the basis for this new kind of Church. Of course it carries on informally the same name as before—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—but that title no longer names any legally existing organizing. It’s really just a trademarked phrase, a piece of intellectual property controlled by Intellectual Reserve, Inc., a subsidiary of the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop.
Brad: So the president is, so to speak, both the Head and the Body, le corps. And it’s a body that subsumes everything underneath it.
Daymon: And there are many, many other bodies that this thing brings life to, new corporations, so by the time Lee steps in with a plan for efficient, streamlined production, it makes perfect sense within this new organizational structure, this new church.
Brad: And that’s where we’ll pick up next time. A number of things have happened to set this stage. We’ve completely broken away, cleanly, from Fundamentalist movements and all polygamists. We’re clearly a modern, monogamist Church with monogamist leadership. We’ve completely cut these folks off, and in the process, we’ve had new kinds of questions raised and subsequently answered, about the relationship between Church and Priesthood, at precisely the time when the Church is beginning to function much more like a modern corporation, with all of the productive centralization and administrative bureaucratization that that entails.
Daymon: But there’s still one remaining question for this modern Church/corporation: what makes us the same as the thing Joseph Smith started? Answering this great Question is really where Correlation comes in and makes new readings possible. Just as Lorin Woolley came up with a new kind of story, and a new way of reading historical documents—as either framed as a smokescreen when addressed to whom it may concern, or as embedding a secret truth—Correlation, under Lee, formulates a new way of telling Mormon history. It doesn’t just present a new text. It relies upon a lot of old stuff just as Woolley and especially Musser did. The real problem at this point is, how are we the same?
Brad: It creates a new lens for reading Mormon history, for mapping the present onto the past, for rebranding Joseph Smith as a product or exemplar of Modern Mormonism, rather than as an originator or founder or exemplar of 19th century Pioneer Mormonism.
Daymon: Time itself really becomes inverted or reversed under Correlation.
Brad: And we’ll see this when we talk about John Taylor, not John Taylor, Pioneer, Polygamist, the Defiant Undergrounder, but John Taylor, Correlated, fashioned into a spokesman of the Timeless Truths of a collection of abstract, generic principles or values, otherwise known as the Everlasting Gospel™.
Daymon: What eventually becomes Correlation will start by taking a very similar course to what the Fundamentalists took from 1910 to 1935, where they really regrounded themselves in a reformulated connection starting with John Taylor and working backward from there.
Brad: Next time we’ll pick up with Lee’s rise as arguably the most important and powerful Mormon of several decades, well predating his tenure as Church President.
Daymon: I’d say that he’s as important to Modern Mormonism as Joseph Smith is to 19th centiry Mormonism.