Recently I presented a paper at the EMSA conference. Time constraints, and also a sense of their devotional rather than scholarly nature, required that I remove some of the comments I wanted to make. As such I have tried to describe them below.
At the conclusion of his recent book, Douglas Davies offers the reader a ‘glance’ at the sacrificial spirituality of Mormonism by connecting specific themes in Joseph Smith’s theology with Richard Hutch’s view of saintliness and the ‘ongoing human sacrifice’ from which it is formed.
Bearers of the Priesthood are part of an eternal chain of embodied associations. Hands (and it is usually plural) touch the head of the person to be ordained; re-enacting the same ritual space across time and memorialising the various hands on various heads which have brought this authority to this point. This embodied reading of ordination implies the re-establishment of God’s divine life and power on the earth. It is the continuation and extension of a chain of belonging  and it is the perpetuation of the restoration. Life-Belonging-Restoration are antithetical to Death-Dissolution-Apostasy and priesthood becomes the axis upon which these ideas turn.
Hutch argues that there is ‘a soteriological intention to address the ‘need’ to make way for the next generation with responsive and fulfilling ‘acts’’. Being ordained to the Priesthood implies the necessity of transferring that power onto future generations and ensuring the continuation of the restoration. The desire for salvation (or this ‘soteriological intention’) implies an ‘ongoing human sacrifice’ which involves being faithful to the past in order to perpetuate this order in the future. This sacrifice is a willingness to live ‘out of past generations and into future ones’ and is an awareness that the ordained becomes the means by which this redemptive power persists. In the words of Davies, the death of Joseph Smith ‘stood full contrary to betrayal or apostasy’. This betrayal would not have been merely of his present community (the Mormons centred upon Nauvoo) but it would also have been a betrayal of those ancient personalities who extended their powers to him. Further Joseph represents, in part, a refusal to betray those Priesthood generations which will be bound to him in this chain of belonging. Thus being a living sacrifice to life, as Hutch calls it, involves a willingness to be faithful to the embodied lives bound to each Priesthood holder. To sacrifice, in this sense, is not necessarily a single moment, an event, but it is to live in harmony with those whom the ordained are ritually connected; to live as though their bodies bear upon the recipient in the present.
1. Samuel Brown, The Early Mormon Chain of Belonging in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (2011).