Roundtable discussion: Evil-speaking, Part II

As promised in Part I, Steve gets reamed in this one.

Steve: Indeed, no evil-speaking of Matt allowed! I agree with his point that when we are talking about the Lord’s Anointed, there is a sense in which the Word and the speakers of the Word are rightfully conflated and we cannot evil-speak about the messenger without tarnishing the message. I guess the difficulty emerges as we all become speakers of the word in our faith. Clearly we should avoid gossiping and backbiting with regards to ANY person — but the injunction isn’t a general one, it’s a specific one, so we are tasked with figuring out who these Anointed are. Buck’s view is interesting — I would think Joseph’s view of honor and his defense of his friends would operate similarly, but I don’t know.

Roasted Tomatoes: Steve, you either have to address the arguments offered by Stapley and I or this conversation just lost its wheels.

Steve: I didn’t mean to sound dismissive — I am digesting what you all are advancing. I can get behind a relatively broad, inclusive notion of who the Lord’s Anointed are, but I guess I am determined not to take instructions in the Endowment as mere rhetorical flourish. Maybe that’s my extremely conservative side poking through! But because Joseph used the phrase “thine anointed ones” at one point to refer to all saints, we are to use that as our guideline? That threatens to gut the phrase of meaning in my opinion. Grammatically, it is most definitely not a general injunction, or else it would just read, “avoid evil-speaking.” On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily require us to identify the Lord’s Anointed as just Jesus or as only people in leadership positions — those are two ways of drawing the circle, albeit more restrictively.

Look at it this way — there is a substantial argument, which you all have advanced, for saying that the Lord’s Anointed meant historically the Quorum of the Anointed, a term synonymous with the inner circle of Church hierarchy. As the Endowment was made more available to all, more people received anointings as part of the Temple ceremonies, until today when any worthy, temple-going Saint has received an anointing. This tells me that there are really two competing lines of thought for who the Lord’s Anointed are, if we choose to look at early Church history as our guide: either we can look at the modern equivalent of the QofA, which would be (I believe) the General Authorities, or we can deem any endowed member as part of the category.

The latter is a nice, friendly, inclusive way of talking about the injunction, as Jay points out. The former, however, is I think more in line with current usage — if you ask the average member of the Church what this phrase is talking about, I bet they’d link it to leadership or hierarchical status with it (maybe we should host a poll to settle the issue?). To me that says that we have merely carried forward the Quorum of the Anointed to mean the General Authorities. That’s not contra scripture, or even inconsistent with our own history, but it does strike me as odd that Mormons would choose for a more restricted view of the injunction. I guess no matter what we do with this temple language, we need to acknowledge that there’s some interpreting and choosing going on by the person making the covenant.

Stapley: I disagree. In Kirtland, “thine anointed ones” referred to only those who participated in the rituals of the Kirtland Temple, i.e., the priesthood. While the Anointed Quorum was the inner circle, and could be paralleled to General Authorities today; I think that parallel mostly fails. Notably the Anointed Quorum had female members in full standing with full voting rights. Further significant amounts of Church authorities in Nauvoo were not Anointed Quorum members (see the Venn diagram in this post).

Still, I think that it is quite important that Joseph was the president of the Quorum and, as Matt points out, he had very sensitive nerves when it came to public criticism. I imagine that much of any proscription on evil speaking would be focused on him and his teachings. Practically, however, the Quorum had to function as a community and like the School of the Prophets, members were to rely on each other in mutual trust.

With the completion of the Temple and the mass participation in the Nauvoo rituals, the Quorum structure became unwieldy and was never reformed. In its place, Prayer Circle groups formed (with presidents, minutes, etc.). Wards, stakes, quorums and extended families had Prayer Circle groups into the 20th century (the last vestiges of these groups ended in 1978 when the FP directed that all extra-temple altars be removed). That is a long way of saying that inasmuch as our current temple liturgy descends from the Anointed Quorum, so does the proscription on evil speaking.

Roasted Tomatoes: Let me add to Stapley’s thoughts that a wide range of competing definitions for “anointed” are available. In D&C 132, for example, the “anointed” seems to be the person who has the sealing power. This usage is incommensurate with the usage in the Kirtland dedicatory prayer, the title Messiah, Old Testament usage, and in fact contemporary folk Mormon usage. That such a broad collection of legitimate meanings clearly exists should suggest that no definitive conclusions can be drawn about the meaning of the term; we are clearly unlikely to be able to talk our way to a consensus.

One of the few usages for which little if any support can be found in scripture or ordinance is the common contemporary usage in which the category of the “anointed” includes all LDS leaders and none of the followers. When people are accused of evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed for saying something negative against their bishops, such accusations may be correct — but the kinds of definitions that support such accusations would generally also support accusations against bishops when they say negative things about ward members.

Stapley: To add to that, JNS, there is a strong tradition of use, as Matt shows us with HC Kimball, that associates the “Lord’s anointed” with Church leaders. There are lots of reasons for this, notably the Old Testament usage of anointing leaders (which is manifest in the Utah attempts at reviving the Council of Fifty). Colloquially, the “Lord’s anointed” frequently refers to a leader, perhaps a king and a priest; it is just that in its revolutionary revelation, the temple is designed to make us all, as John Taylor once said, “Kings and Priests to the Lord, and Queens and Priestesses to Him” (JD 1:37). So there is some tension there.

I would also argue that the use in D&C 132 should be taken as someone who has participated in the rituals of the Temple. I realize that this wasn’t always the case in extant polygamist marriages; however, neither were some of the other details as outlined in that revelation.

Roasted Tomatoes: J., let me quickly point out that there are two clearly contradictory usages in D&C 132. One usage claims that sealings must be done “by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred),” which identifies “mine anointed” as the holder of the sealing power. Another part of the text says, “if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed. ” Here, anointing seems to refer to ordinance and not to a single person. Neither of these usages is consistent with the HC Kimball usage or with most of the other scriptural usages. What we have here is a word used in a profusion of senses without any authoritative definition. In this light, it is perhaps wise to interpret the phrase in the most inclusive sense possible; at least that way we cover all the possibly included people.


  1. “it does strike me as odd that Mormons would choose for a more restricted view of the injunction.”

    Really? The Mormonism with which I am familiar takes every opportunity to separate “the Brethren” from the “ordinary members.”

  2. Peter LLC says:

    As promised in Part I, Steve gets reamed in this one.

    I was hoping for a somewhat sharper reproof of Steve’s weaving and dodging.

  3. “That is a long way of saying that inasmuch as our current temple liturgy descends from the Anointed Quorum, so does the proscription on evil speaking.”

    No, that conclusion does not follow. You are taking a larger thing, the early Kirtland Endowment, putting it into a history of evolution to the modern Endowmnet, by making a series of assumptions and then apply that set of assumptions to a particular specific subset of that larger whole and concluding the general applies to the specific. The copious amount of early historical references reveal there to be significant ambiguity over what the “Lord’s Anointed” means, and that ambiguity continues. Saying “the Lord’s Anointed” = the Anointed Quorum is not defensible, and extrapolating from that point onward fails.

    “let me quickly point out that there are two clearly contradictory usages in D&C 132. One usage claims…Another part of the text says”

    It isnt contradictory, its clearly a difference in syntax. The word is being used in difference sense determined by the context, that isnt a contradiction, its a complexity.

    “What we have here is a word used in a profusion of senses without any authoritative definition.”

    Yes, this is precisely the problem.

    “In this light, it is perhaps wise to interpret the phrase in the most inclusive sense possible; at least that way we cover all the possibly included people.”

    I heartily disagree. The wisest thing is to use all available resources to flesh out the different possible meanings and then determine which meaning applies when based upon contextual evidence. Adopting the widest applicable definition to cover all possible uses results in a term with little or no useful meaning, you may as well say “almost everything is boinga” and be done with it.

    Steve isnt being reamed here, he is being bullied.

  4. I think it’d be more interesting to make a list of the people of whom we should speak evil of. Then we just make sure we don’t speak evil of anyone else, and we’re pretty likely to avoid speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed, whoever that may be.

    So, in no particular order, here’s a start (and if Steve thinks this is a threadjack, I’ll come back and take the list elsewhere):

    Adolf Hitler
    Joseph Stalin
    Pol Pot
    Michael Jordan
    Jim McMahon
    Kobe Bryant
    Britney Spears
    Paris Hilton
    Osama Bin Laden
    Buster Matheny
    Barry Manilow
    Mark Hoffman
    King Herod
    the CEOs of the Big Three automakers
    Adolf Eichmann
    Saddam Hussein
    Tom Tancredo

  5. Steve Evans says:


  6. Peter LLC says:


    He did, after all, “play Fidel Castro in a class assignment.”

  7. Jonathan Green says:

    I appreciate that Steve is trying to get at actual current usage. The historical footnotes are interesting, but really beside the point in figuring out what the injunction to avoid evil speaking means today. Would you try to determine how best to avoid steadying the ark by studying what Leviticus means by “ark,” and then feeling free to steady anything not made of gopher wood and containing tablets of the law?

    Why keep looking at historical usage and scriptural authority to the exclusion of contemporary authority or current usage? (In the last thread, JNS asked if a statement by an apostle can trump scripture. But of course it can–that was the whole point of needing modern prophets.) Certainly you can put Dallin Oaks’s and other statements in historical context, or trace how usage of “avoiding evil speaking” has changed over time, but trying to provide an account of what “evil speaking of the Lord’s annointed” should mean without any reference to 20th/21st century church teaching seems very odd.

  8. Jonathan, my point earlier is that I think there’s trouble if remarks in PBS interviews trump canon. The canonization process means something and does single out just a few statements by prophets while letting nearly all the rest fall by the wayside. Ignoring that process entirely seems unwise, to say the least.

    But, to be sure, for those to whom the newest idea is always best, contemporary teachings are nearly unanimous in identifying the Lord’s Anointed with presidents of the LDS church.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Jonathan, I also appreciate Steve’s attempt to explain our current understanding, and I think he’s doing a decent job of it.

    However,I think you are elevating contemporary pronouncements and being entirely too dismissive of scriptural authority. It is a balancing act, to be sure, but lets remember: OD2 came about because Pres. Kimball and the Twelve concluded that there was no scriptural warrant for the priesthood ban, 100 years of authoritative statements to the contrary notwithstanding.

  10. Eric Russell says:

    Mark, I would add, “anyone with whom we have a political disagreement” to the list.

  11. Without any scholarly support whatsoever, I propose that the “anointing” is the amniotic fluid, which protects and shields the fetus in its in-utero growth. In the Mormon framework, I’m suggesting that all who come into mortality are anointed with divine potential and called to particular assignments, with the possibility of eternal life written into the DNA itself. Therefore, I consider every mortal, including Paris Hilton, to be “anointed.” But I do enjoy reading the more scholarly treatments.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Hunh Margaret, that’s a nice way of looking at things. Completely made up, of course, but still pretty nice.

  13. No, Steve. Amniotic fluid is a reality.

  14. Would you try to determine how best to avoid steadying the ark by studying what Leviticus means by “ark?”

    No, because we do not make a covenant not to “steady the ark.” I say steady away.

  15. Just now read the comments, and MCQ that is an excellent point. If there were an Ark that got moved around in every temple and if everybody covenanted not to steady the Ark, then there would be a legitimate parallel.

  16. Last Lemming says:

    I have forgiven Buster Matheny for stealing my transistor radio. Linking him to Paris Hilton and Barry Manilow is way harsh.

  17. Mark, how could your list not include Bucky *&$&@^I$ Dent?

  18. Mark Brown says:

    Last Lemming,

    Was that really you whose apartment got broken into by Big Buster? Holy cow, what a blast from the past!

  19. Mark B.,

    What about when the CFO of Citigroup is your area authority?

  20. Last Lemming says:

    What happened is that several rooms on my dorm floor were broken into and some major electronic equipment was taken. Some of it was later found in Matheny’s possession. My radio disappeared at the same time, but I never bothered reporting it, so I don’t actually know if it was found with the other equipment.

  21. I appreciate the give and take on the question, and it’s clear that JNS and Mark Brown prefer the broader historical interpretation of ‘Lord’s Anointed’ over the modern interpretation. Steve got “reamed” for tilting modern. ED prefers the modern and so do I. As #7 points out, that’s what living prophets are for. And I have a weakness for shiny new things.

    I suppose we could continue going back and forth until the Brethren add OD3 to clarify the question, but I doubt this theological conundrum will quite rise to that level any time soon.

    Moving past the question for a moment, I’m wondering: what is the consequence of adopting one view over the other? I think we’ve pretty well established that evil speaking generally is to be avoided as a violation of numerous scriptural injunctions. We’ve also established that evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is a violation of a temple covenant.

    Suppose I’m wrong, and evil speaking of a bishopric member isn’t just regular old evil speaking, but is in fact a full blown temple covenant violation.

    What is the consequence of committing the latter offense over committing the former? Is it that I can no longer answer the temple recommend question about keeping temple covenants in the affirmative? If so, that’s certainly a problem, but I don’t see it as necessarily being an automatic disqualifier. I doubt someone would be denied a temple recommend because the interviewee admits to having said once upon a time that the second counselor to the Bishop was a jerk.

    Is there some other special sentencing guideline that I’m not aware of?

  22. Cris, I guess the answer for many Mormons might be that we make a special intensity of promises in the temple and therefore can expect particular spiritual consequences for breaking any of them. Yet this still fails as a meaningful distinction because one of the temple covenants is to obey the whole gospel as contained in the scriptures. That one covenant thoroughly moots basically all the non-secrecy-related temple covenants, making the rest of the covenants seem didactic in purpose rather than new arrangements that we enter into with God. So I doubt we can coherently argue that breaking an explicit temple covenant is worse than breaking any other part of the gospel — because that also breaks a temple covenant.

    So theologically I think the distinction has few if any consequences. In practical Mormon power politics, there are more ramifications. People fairly routinely attempt to bolster the power of local or general church leaders by claiming that disagreeing with them is a form of evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed. Sometimes, leaders will even make this claim for themselves — as a quite literally deranged mission president of mine had the habit of doing. This is a way of demanding respect for hierarchical position, of trying to maintain power and influence by virtue of the priesthood. If we adopt the uncanonized, informal definition of the Lord’s anointed as anyone with a leadership calling — and the higher the calling, the more anointed the individual — and then compound the error by defining evil-speaking as any attitude other than complete submission, we end up in a situation in which people might think they have a gospel obligation to obey their bishops. This is a clear error, yet a common consequence of such confusions.

    I would argue that the equation of the church president with the Lord’s anointed causes a parallel confusion for people who regard disagreement as evil-speaking: it creates the impression that we have a gospel obligation to obey, rather than hearken to counsel. The obligation to hearken is important because it keeps us open for those moments when God requires obedience — but we aren’t obliged to follow every whim of any human being…

  23. james Richards says:

    we the black circle are here to stay,burning churches and killing christians,these are our days,this is our time and we will destroy all that stand in our way, burning out your light,until only darkness remains as you burn eternally in satans unholy flames