A bit ago Kevin fielded a question from the BCC inbox relating to the meaning of tribal assignments in Patriarchal Blessings. I liked his response. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of years ago. We went out for some overpriced burgers and chatted about his declared lineage to one of the more uncommon tribes. I’d certainly never met anyone who professed a similar assignment. He wondered what I thought it might mean.
First, I think Samuel Brown’s article on early Mormon adoption theology is really important here. He talks about how Patriarchs, particularly those early archetypes, reified Mormonism’s particular and emphatic conceptions of Christian adoption through their blessings. It is difficult to summarize pp. 20-32 of Sam’s piece concisely, so I encourage you to read them. Patriarchal blessings declared incorporation into the family of God (a bona fide Christian concept of the time), when the call of the gospel often tore earthly families asunder. Sam spends his time in early Mormonism, but it wasn’t uncommon into the 20th century to receive a blessing that only declared ones lineage as a child of Abraham. Abraham’s seed, indeed.
Ideas of lineage, especially as relating to priesthood, ramped up dramatically in Nauvoo, shortly after Joseph Smith died, and the associated cosmologies structured the lives of Saints in really interesting ways. Brigham Young declared, for example, that the priesthood required descent from Ephraim (check out my article in the same issue as Sam’s above). However most of those ideas were quickly forgotten, and Saints were left to craft their own narratives to explain their tribal assignments.
Now, I have to confess that I generally believe that the mythology of the Lost Tribes is interesting, but lacking in religious heft. Check out Benite’s volume for a brief overview. Moreover, as Kevin points out, genetically we are all comparably descendants of all the tribes. That said, even though we are left to figure out what the heck this now integral feature of our prophetic blessings mean, I really do believe that it has meaning.
After going through a bit of this with my friend over my calorie dense, and only reasonably satisfying burger, I looked in his eyes and confessed that I honestly didn’t know why he got the assignment he did, nor did I have any proper answer to his question. It is true that Stake Presidents are supposed to check through the output of Patriarchs now and again and if too many exotic tribes pop up, they are supposed to reel them in. Still, like my friend, I am willing to believe that his particular assignment was inspired and I did tell him what I thought his assignment possibly could mean: namely, that he had the opportunity to reflect on being different. Perhaps God wanted him to consider what it means to be outside the norm and use the ensuing empathy to minister to those who don’t often find their tribes on Sundays.