Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (Part 6 — Church and Priesthood)

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.


  1. Stephanie says:

    Interesting. The information in this post is a pretty good argument for how “priesthood authority” is a construct of man and may change at some point in the future. Particularly this part:

    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.

    So Priesthood “authority” isn’t necessarily something from God to give men dominion over women. It’s a man-made construct to aid in the organization of the church. I wouldn’t doubt that it is okayed by the Lord to accomplish his purposes in this dispensation, but that doesn’t mean that it is the eternal order of things. This really helps me to see priesthood authority in a new light. Thanks.

  2. I noticed that in the previous segment, there was a discussion of the constant prayers of the Fundamentalists to know what direction they should take, but this seems to be completely lacking in the discussion of how Elders Widtsoe and Lee developed their programs and such. Was this intentional?

    Also, is the name of the church today still just the DBA name of the Corporation of the President of the Church, in legal terms?

  3. Alex, yes — the same organizational structure exists today. The Corporation of the President of the Church (a corp. sole) acts as a kind of holding company that owns the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop (also a corp. sole), which in turn holds all “church-owned” properties. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is a trademarked phrase controlled by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

  4. When the President dies, control of the CPB reverts to a trusteeship of the Q12. As I understand it, the CPC itself exists in perpetuity, but the Q12 have the power to align its corporate personhood with the body and name of a living individual by calling a new Church President.

  5. There are a number of very important perspectives outlined in this post. And Kris and I rely on Daymon’s reading of Widtsoe’s Priesthood reform for our paper on female ritual healing.

    I do, however, disagree emphatically that priesthood qua authority is a neologism in the Grant administration. Prieshood has had dynamic conceptions since the beginning, to be sure; and certainly particular valences are emphasized during certain periods. But priesthood as authority goes back to the very beginning. This is illustrated quite well in debates about whether non-Mormons should be rebaptized when they join the Church – a major theme pronounced by the early evangelists was appropriate priesthood authority to baptize and lay on hands, for example.

    Priesthood is complicated early, especially in Nauvoo, as Joseph Smith expands “Priesthood” to refer to his (now be gentle Daymon) filial cosmology. The “Quorum of the Anointed” is a later term; contemporarily members called it various thing, but sometimes something as simple as the “Priesthood.” Priestesses administer rituals in the temple and participants look forward to reigning through eternity as a royal priesthood. And in this way, perhaps Dayman and Brad are correct that this priesthood is outside of the church. There are no bishops or deacons in heaven, only priests and priestesses.

    But priesthood as authority still exists, and as the “Quorum of the Anointed” never really gets reconstituted (I think Prayer Circle groups are the closest analogue), the post Nauvoo church members use “priesthood” in distinct ways – sometimes meaning the older governing priesthood of the church and sometimes meaning the newer cosmology of the temple.

  6. …and sometimes, as you show, to mean the fraternal order of the Priesthood.

  7. As a side note, I generally think that though Mormons are typically not familiar with the corporate structure of the Church, that they intuitively understand and likely sympathize with what that means for them. Most members realize that they don’t own the local church building and that funds are consecrated to “Salt Lake” for proper disbursement. We are a long way from Bishops and Stake Presidents taking a slice of tithing revenues.

  8. Those are good points, Stapley. We should clarify what we’re arguing for as new during this period is not Priesthood qua authority or authorization, but 1) priesthood as an equivalent to administrative authority or the thing that is diagrammed on a hierarchical, organizational flowchart; and 2) “priesthood” as a grammatical modifier that can buttress “authority” conceived broadly (as in, e.g., the authority vested in an oversight committee or in the person up the bureaucratic chain of command).

  9. That’s also very true, RE: tithing, though I think it actually reinforces this notion of a new kind of “Church” and “Priesthood” emerging at this time, one where both terms are in a sense equivalent to the central administrative and bureaucratic structure of an increasingly centralized and bureaucratized organization.

    So, of course, SPs and Bishops aren’t getting fat off of tithing, and they never will. But it creates new forms and framings of relationships. You belong to “the Church” in the most fundamental, everyday sense by virtue of the fact that you belong to a community, a congregation, a ward, something local and tangible. You certainly aren’t a member of a legally recognized membership organization called “the LDS Church” any more than you are a member of the CPC or the CPB. But you tithe your income to “the Church”—something that exists at a remove from your local setting–and “the Church” then subsidizes through the disbursement of funds, materials, etc., your day to day activities. This positions “the Church” as a separate and distinct, very distant and impersonal, entity from whatever it is that you are a part of and you participate in in day-to-day experience, worship, etc.

  10. Swisster says:

    Your explanation of considering the priesthood separately from the church reminds of a related question: Could the priesthood outlast the church in the first few centuries C.E.? Not trying to change the subject; just wondering if I’m understanding the relationship btw the two.

  11. Right and to illustrate the shift, there was a time when Stake Presidents and Bishops did get a slice, though receipts were so minuscule that it generally couldn’t have offset their costs all that much.

  12. Stapley,
    your posts provide much needed context, and historical framing of the complexity of ‘priesthood’. I agree that I simplify things here, and no doubt do this in the dissertation. I was, honestly, flat out of energy, and coudn’t conceive starting an entire history of the usage of the term ‘priesthood’, though of course, I did enough to satisfy that my sense of the transition was more or less accurate. Your work on the ritual changes is the sort of history we desperately need. theories and claims about priesthood are one thing, but it’s the practical, day to day changes that spread new ideas through the culture. I limited my research to the claims, and to the diagrams of ‘authority’ that began to map relations across congregations and the headquarters.

  13. Brad, Daymon,

    Thanks for the awesome series. This series nicely adds to my understanding of the 1890-1945 or so transition to the modern church

  14. Very interesting post. I question the assertions that Widtsoe and Lee claimed the “priesthood” and the “brethren” are one and the same. I’m pretty sure the terms “conferring the priesthood” and “ordaining to the priesthood” were used concurrently and were intended to be synonymous.

    I thought they’d bee talking in terms of “priesthood keys” from Brigham Young’s day to explain why even though someone bore the priesthood, they couldn’t exercise it independently of the church (at least where the church was organized).

    I’m not much of a historian — I pretty much only read what guys like you write. Depending on the contrasts or similarities you choose to highlight, you give markedly different perspectives on the same story.

  15. Martin,
    Priesthood as denoting the group of men who hold keys is a semantic pairing that does predate the period and developments under discussion. We’re saying that throughout the pioneer period, “the Priesthood” was typically used, when not referring to an abstract power, in the same way we, today, use “the Brethren.” The new usages and conceptual changes that new grammaticalities entail, are outlined more explicitly in comment #8.

    See, also, this comment from the previous installment on how keys fit into these shifting and contested understandings of the relationship between Church and Priesthood.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    You guys are making this corporate lawyer chuckle. Your views on the meanings of corporations — particularly corporations sole — are quite dramatic, but not legally correct. Focusing on the earthly, corporeal or corporate existence of the Church strikes me as an incorrect perspective; the Kingdom is not of this world.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    And yes, I know that was a short little comment that said a lot. I don’t believe that fully examining the purpose and nature of corporations is the purpose of the thread. Just trying to point out that the OP seems to hinge a lot of drama on corporate existence and incorporation of the Church, when from a legal perspective (and, I’d argue, a layman’s view) it’s just not warranted.

  18. 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

    The term “ordinance” is used all over the KJV, and often in a similar sense as is used in the Church today, i.e. not a rule as such, but rather in reference to that which God has ordained or decreed should be done, e.g.:

    “And thou shalt prepare a meat offering…continually by a perpetual ordinance unto the Lord” (Ezek 46:14)

    “Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service…Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” (Heb 9:1,10)

    “behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, ….” (Ezek 44:5)

    Of course the two senses (“that which is to be done” and “the order which commands that something should be done”) tend to be used interchangeably.

  19. Lots of good stuff to mull over here. I’ve understood different meanings of Priesthood, for example the development of the concept of Melchizedek Priesthood during Joseph Smith’s time, but this context is very enlightening. Also, this gives me a whole new perspective on Widstoe’s Priesthood & Church Government, which I now plan on revisiting. Thanks for this series, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  20. You certainly aren’t a member of a legally recognized membership organization called “the LDS Church”

    Religious exceptions to the rules governing such organizations notwithstanding, I think technically you are. Of course lots of non profits these days like to pretend that contributors are members of their organization without actually conferring that status, but I don’t there is a denomination in the country that makes the same pretense.

    There is all sorts of common law with regard to the opposite proposition, e.g. when an entire congregation decides to depart from a parent denomination, many times they get to keep the building they worship in, because they implicitly _paid_ for it.

    That is not to say that church attorneys don’t try to structure things so that can’t happen, but they do not appear to have law, tradition, or custom on their side. That is my understanding.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Exactly right, Mark. Partnerships, associations and similar groups don’t need to be registered with the state or even necessarily formally organized in order for them to exist and have members. Now they may not enjoy tax-exempt status, etc., but they exist and function all the time.

  22. According to Wikipedia, since the dissolution of the church by the Edmund-Tucker act, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has continued to operate as an unincorporated religious association. Once upon a time the President of the Church was a trustee in trust for that association.

    However, I believe nowadays essentially all the assets of the Church are now held by the Corporation of the President or its subsidiaries. I have no idea what the legal implications of that are, as it usually only comes up when someone tries to sue the church.

  23. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, the primary legal implications relate to taxation and continuity of asset ownership for the organization. Many (most?) incorporated churches are corporations sole. I believe the English monarchy is as well. The corporation exists perpetually, so that the assets don’t revert to their original contributors or to the state upon the passing of the owner (or the installation of a new owner); accordingly there’s no transfer tax or testacy concerns.

  24. I’ve lots of questions about the legal side of corporations, but I’m not sure an understanding of the church as a corporation (sole) has no bearing even on the heavenly side of things. For my part, I know only a little about Corp Sole, but from what I know it’s rather unique, and involves different laws than ordinary corporations might.

  25. I have no training or background in law, and therefor my perspective on corporations sole is what I gleaned from trolling the internet. It appears that a lot of the church’s use them, e.g., the Archbishop of Cantibury and various Catholic diocese. Is there a source to get a quick history on the practice?

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Sure, J. there are lots of legal tomes on it. I’ll email you.

    Daymon, it’s not really all that unique. The set of laws for corps sole is really just a few sections of your average state code. Being a corporation sole might have some bearing, but no more so that being incorporated/organized/registered with the state at all.

  27. I suppose my understanding is that the LDS Church was organized as a typical charitable corporation (hence the need for five to seven elders in 1830 as per NY state law), but that this corporation, or some version of it incorporated in Utah Territory (territorial laws varied from state laws w/ respect to incorporation, I believe) was dissolved in 1890 by the Supreme Court. There was no corporate (legal) structure, only a Trustee-in-Trust until Nibley changed state laws to allow Corps Sole.

    Corps Sole, as I understand it, don’t have the same requirements that say non-profits have; and they certainly don’t have the concerns over ‘severance’ that the early church dealt with; the Order of Enoch, for example, was a priesthood order of sorts, but also a group entry to which required signatures, contracts, etc. Having one’s name in the book conferred certain rights. My concern is more with how this new structure shapes daily religious life at the congregational level, because there’s different rights and responsibilities that follow when one is a legal member of a corporation, versus a donor to a corp sole. I’m happy to learn where I’m incorrect, of course.

    So I’m trying to track the collective-legal shifts that seemed to coincide with changes in the usage and public representation of ‘the priesthood’, alongside reactions against the fundamentalists that seeemd to change how LDS dealt with ‘leadership’, locally and non-locally.

  28. Stapley,
    Right. A lot of catholic and quasi-catholic churches are corps sole, as the form was created, I believe, to prevent the monarch from taking church property upon the death of the bishop. Protestant churches are rarely organized as corp sole, which is why in U.S. history the first eleemosynary organizations are protestant (e.g., Dartmouth, Harvard) groups. The ‘church’ seemed to follow a sort of reverse shift, from protestant to catholic forms of (legal) organization, though whether this translates ‘on the ground’, and how, is rather more difficult to track.

  29. the primary legal implications relate to taxation and continuity of asset ownership for the organization

    I understand the continuity of asset ownership thing. What I am curious about is whether in the case of a religious schism, a court would recognize the right of a religious corporation sole to retain all the assets, and indeed whether the head of a religious corporation sole has any legal obligation to the parishioners at all.

    If indeed the Corporation of the President is a corporation sole, then presumably the president could kick out all the congregations and use the buildings for any legitimate non-profit purpose, could he not? Bowling instruction, perhaps?

    For that reason, I rather suspect that the Corporation of the President is a “board-only” non profit corporation composed of the current members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Of course, presumably they might jointly come to the same decision.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    Daymon, your first paragraph is essentially right. Your second one isn’t quite there – in terms of qualifying as a not-for-profit even a corporation sole has to meet nonprofit criteria, etc. There’s a presumption of qualifying for religious institutions, but that can be revoked.

    Further, the severance and membership issues aren’t relevant to a corporation sole proper, but they’re still highly relevant to the overall community and the religious association. Remember that the corporation sole is simply an asset-managing device. As such the corporation is not the soul of the underlying organization and indeed may be unrelated to the day-to-day operations of the religious organization – it is just there to receive donations and ensure continuity of asset ownership in perpetuity. The Order of Enoch could exist today within the Church as presently organized if we wanted it.

    I’d point out that I’ve never seen a formally organized (e.g. incorporated) church where all members are shareholders. Even in the original NY church it wasn’t this way. So the point about how the structure shapes daily religious life isn’t quite apt, since we were never in a position to be owners of the church in the first place.

  31. I remember when we sometimes sustained the president of the Church also as a trustee in trust for the Church. See N. Eldon Tanner, “Revelation on Priesthood Accepted, Church Officers Sustained,” Ensign, Nov 1978, 16

  32. Mark D., absent fraud the corporation sole has clear title to those assets and can use them as it sees fit within its charter. But I don’t think the COP is owned/run by a Board – I think it literally vests in the President only.

  33. This might be where I will benefit from the Legal series of the JSPP legal series (or not, I don’t quite know what to expect). But in Nauvoo there was a Trustee-in-trust. I have no idea what the legal organization looked like in the first decades of Utah (though I do know that the Young and Taylor estates were a bit confusing).

  34. “This is illustrated quite well in debates about whether non-Mormons should be rebaptized when they join the Church – a major theme pronounced by the early evangelists was appropriate priesthood authority to baptize and lay on hands, for example.”

    I don’t know the history of those debates, but section22 that sets forth the necessity of baptism (even of those previously baptized) does not refer to priesthood or lack thereof, but ties the need for rebaptism to this being a “new and everlasting covenant,” and implicitly ties this by analogy to Christ’s covenant having superseded the law of Moses. To my knowledge, however, Christ (or even Paul) made no claim that those performing Mosaic ordinances were without authority or priesthood. In fact, Paul made it a point to take some followers to the Jewish temple for some rites. Section 22’s language, to me, does not establish a focus on “priesthood” in April 1830 when the revelation was recorded.

  35. The model for the Utah corporation sole statute was the California statute which was used primarily by Catholic bishops.

    Other corporations sole were also formed to acquire particular real estate assets, such as the Corporation of the President of the XYZ Stake, and some chuch properties are still held in those names.

  36. Steve,
    I agree that the ‘soul’ of the corp sole is found among those who participate in the society, and not in the legal form. And regarding the Order of Enoch, I agree it could revive today, but what corporate form could it take?
    This is something I’ve wondered about, particularly given the rule about “by common consent.”

  37. absent fraud the corporation sole has clear title to those assets and can use them as it sees fit within its charter.

    So I guess the real answer to the question is to be found in the articles of incorporation on file for the Corporation of the President at the Utah Department of Commerce. The summary information is:

    Entity Number: 555534-0145
    Registration Date: 11/26/1923
    60 E S TEMPLE #1800 Salt Lake City, UT 84111

    Status: Active
    Status Description: Good Standing
    License Type: Corporation – Sole

  38. But Daymon, the Order of Enoch never had a corporate existence, not a legal one in any event. It was simply an internal code for the religious organization.

    Of course the topic of common consent is another nest entirely – I don’t know if we ever really practiced it, to be honest.

  39. RE: Corp Sole- It’d be interesting to see when this practice became popularized in general, as opposed to the church’s adoption of it.

    In any case, I love John Widtsoe and Harold B. Lee. Glad they were around to take the church to the next level when the time came.

  40. Thanks for the post, Mark.
    I don’t really know why Nibley wanted C.Sole status for the Presiding Bishop. It doesn’t really make sense as a protective measure against monarchs, for example. Any ideas about the advantages Sole versus non-profit/charitable status would give?

  41. I’ve heard that the corporation sole was a way to avoid disputes with heirs of the president of the church. Since the corporation sole is “owned” by who ever holds that office from time to time when the old office holder is replaced, title to the property automatically transfers to the new office holder.

    So when a new President of the XYZ stake is set apart he gets control of that corporation and all of its assets.

    The California Secretary of State lists about 24 different “Corporation of the President of the XYZ Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints”, mostly with filing dates in the 1950s.

  42. Steve,
    I guess that’s my question: Doesn’t something like an Order of Enoch, if it involves capital, citizens, etc., require a corporate structure? It would implicitly summon one anyway, right, as a partnership? I think they tried to set a corporate form up in Ohio, and in Nauvoo, but settled on the city-state form under Joseph.

  43. Stapley,
    The T-i-T was the Presiding Bishop, until Brigham called himself as second counselor in the PB, and upon the death of E.Woolley made himself T-i-T. The Pres was T-i-T thereafter, though under Taylor they began incorporating individual, semi-autonomous stakes to hold property independent of the T-i-T held by Taylor. This was a redistribution strategy aimed at circumventing the Feds, I believe. Under Snow the local corporations/T-i-Ts were stripped as part of the centralization of tithing.

  44. mjp-

    Your use of the term “XYZ stake” in the context of these posts made me do a serious double take…

  45. DavidH (#34) You bring up an import point about that revelation, one which I have been working on off-and-on to contextualize, but at least right now, I don’t have too much.

  46. I obtained copies of the articles of incorporation for the Corporation of the President and the substantive amendments from the state (in PDF if anyone wants to post them).

    They are pretty generic, in the sense that they do not contain much beyond the basic legal requirements, and certainly no requirements for consent. One of the amendments does say that the President or Acting President of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, or one of the members thereof shall have power to act as corporation sole until a new president is installed.

    Another (in 1973) says that in the event of the dissolution of the corporation the remaining assets shall be distributed to a “non profit fund, foundation, or corporation, which is organized and operated exclusively for charitable, education, or religious and/or scientific purposes and which has established its tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code”.

    Most of the other things on file are delegations of authority to one of the counselors in the First Presidency or another financial agent to act as agent for the corporation sole.

    There is one filing that certifies David O. McKay as the duly appointed President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apparently none for the other presidents although I did not check the filings from 1972 on in any detail.

  47. One other thing – since 2004 you can’t form a new corporation sole in Utah. I believe new ones are still permitted in some other states. Some legal scholars claim that corporations sole are on the way out. The IRS has apparently had a lot of problems with many of them as well.

  48. About ‘ordinances’: the term was bandied about in the tussle over the role of ritual and priesthood in the Reformation, and so the some sectarians used Ord. in a way that spoke to rules (independent of rites), and others used it to speak to rites (say, Anglicans). Hence the KJV plays the middle ground. In the D&C most uses of Ordinance can be read as either rite or rule. But the standard became in the church to speak of Ordiances as rites, performances, and so on, which ties in with the new uses of ‘priesthood,’ I believe, which reacted against the fundamentalists’ claims to have all the rights to perform rituals.

  49. The nature of church corporate structure solidified succession. There is no longer any question after JFS I about how it works.

  50. I think that is an important idea, WVS. Grant’s incredulity regarding the Patriarch’s ideas and successor may very well be a consideration in his organization of the corporation sole.

  51. I think the Church has one recourse against abuse of the corporation sole. The other leaders could formally discipline the President of the Church, using the procedure documented in D&C 107:82-84, to the point of excommunication if necessary, which would allow a new president to be appointed.

  52. Mark (51) Well… and the fact that Church believes the President of the Church to be called of God and, at least since the time of the Manifesto, incapable of leading the Church astray…

    Not a particularly strong legal argument, I’m sure, but since we are talking about religious beliefs, surely faith in the surety of the words spoken by a Prophet acting as the mouthpiece of God should have some weight.

  53. Oh, goodness… I just used three forms of the word “sure” in one sentence. The shame is mine, and I apologise deeply.

  54. at least since the time of the Manifesto, incapable of leading the Church astray…

    That is the general idea, the more subtle clarification is that God will bless you for following the prophet regardless.

    However, I believe it was President Hinckley who not so recently said that the authority of the Church was vested in the consensus of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. We sustain all fifteen as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators do we not?

    It is not an accident that proclamations and other major changes come with fifteen signatures these days. Thirty and more years ago, the most major of written declarations in the Church tended to come with just three. That is emblematic of perhaps the biggest change in Church administration in the past half century.

  55. New York has a Religious Corporations Law–I suspect that it was under a predecessor of that law that the church was formally organized in 1830. But I don’t believe New York law provides for corporations sole–nobody in the AG’s office, when I used to deal with them on some LDS church matters, seemed to have a clue what a corporation sole was. And they seemed troubled by the seemingly unlimited authority that the “corporation sole”–as the person holding the office from time-to-time is also called–has to deal in the property owned by the corporation.

    But corporate organization of a church under the Religious Corporations Law does not constitute every member of that church a member of the corporation, at least not in the sense that a shareholder of a business corporation is. The law does not, for example, require any particular procedure for selection of officers or directors (or trustees) of the corporation–the members do not have the rights, as common stockholders in a business corporation–to elect those who hold those offices.

    On a different matter, that 1973 amendment to the articles of incorporation of COP (and I think that CPB adopted a similar amendment at the same time) was probably intended to deal with IRS requirements–an organization desiring 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status has to provide for such a distribution of its assets upon dissolution.

  56. Daymon asked: Any ideas about the advantages Sole versus non-profit/charitable status would give?

    That’s not really the right question. By non-profit or charitable status, I presume you’re referring to tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code, particularly under section 501 (c)(3), which not only makes the organization (generally) exempt from income taxes, but makes contributions to the organization deductible from the income of contributors in calculating their income taxes. And that tax-exempt status could be obtained by churches organized as religious corporations (under, for example, New York law) or as corporations sole or as partnerships or unincorporated associations.

    The question (maybe the one you were asking in the first place) is why organize as a corporation sole rather than as a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of some state–Utah, for instance.

    One reason is that n-f-p corporation organization usually contemplates oversight of the corporation by a board of trustees, who select and direct the officers in their day-to-day management of the corporation’s affairs. And that doesn’t really fit the top-down organization of the presiding councils of the church. The president of the church is not subject to a board of trustees–whether his counselors or the Twelve–nor is he ultimately dependent upon their consent to his decisions (with, however, a relatively big caveat in the direction of Doctrine and Covenants 107).

    So the organization of COP and CPB as corporations sole permits them to act, at least as far as the state is concerned, with unfettered discretion, while the persons holding those offices are in fact bound by Section 107 in their dealings with those councils to which they belong.

  57. Mark,
    thank you heartily for clarifying so succinctly what remains for me a murky notion.

  58. New York has a Religious Corporations Law–I suspect that it was under a predecessor of that law that the church was formally organized in 1830.

    Apparently there were no actual corporate filings in New York, so the church did not get legally incorporated (did it need to?) until 1851 or so in Utah, then dissolved by the Edmunds-Tucker act in 1882, then the Corporation of the President incorporated as a corporation sole in late 1923. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints per se is not incorporated at all, and apparently hasn’t been since 1882.

  59. I’m kind of surpirised nobody has referenced this recent talk from the BY Symposium:

    He basically says the church was not originally organized as a corporation, but as a common law religious society. The corporations came later as has already been discussed.

  60. MY Hypothesis for why we went Corp Sole would be so that if groups were breaking off of the church (Fundamentalists) they would not be able to take Church Assetts with them. Just a theory.

  61. There’s no doubt in my mind that priesthood power and authority to use that power will exist for all eternity. Anything that adds to that understanding is helpful, anything that attempts to take away is useless dithering.

  62. I’ve always just assumed that the priesthood in Christ’s time continued on for a couple decades after the first apostles passed away through family lines, much like it (probably) did from Abraham to Mosaic (through Jethro’s family). For the first time in my life I’m wondering if the fundamentalists did indeed have some measure of priesthood even after leaving the institution referred to as “the church”. Not planning on going to Hildale to join them . . . but just wondering. Thanks for giving me more things to ponder.

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