The danger is gone

I’ve written a lot about “female ritual healing” in the last decade–frequently with Kris. I think a lot more people are aware today, than ten years ago, that women in the church regularly anointed the sick and blessed. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has published the once guarded minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, which included examples of women blessing and Joseph’s revelatory approval of the practice. Deseret Book remarkably published that minute even before the JSPP released the document. The Church Historian’s Press has published transcripts of the minutes with notes, along with many other relevant documents from the subsequent decades (The First Fifty Years, even available in the Gospel Library App). The Church History Department has published several essays that deal with the practice, including a Gospel Topics Essay and a Church History Essay. I sense no danger in discussing it. It is a different world than when Kris and I first walked into the old Archives.


I’ve collected thousands of documents that describe women in the church blessing and healing, along with related practices. I’ve read key documents hundreds of times. And still, there are days like yesterday, when looking through microfilm of Relief Society minutes that I see something I’ve seen many times before, and yet it strikes me as extraordinary. Not extraordinary because it is anomalous. Extraordinary because the older I get, I find simple acts of love, devotion, and documentation to be…tender mercies, if you will. Perhaps because the only meetings I’ve attended that have kept minutes are those required by law, and the idea of a paper letter directing my religious participation is entirely anachronistic.

South-Eastern Idaho has always been a place to drive through, sisters-in-law notwithstanding. And yet a hundred years ago women gathered together and recorded themselves year after year. The testimonies, the fears, the sickness, and the death. The miracles. The budgets, and expenses. And at the end of a volume among various miscellanea, a letter from Joseph F. Smith’s First Presidency stating that despite regular communications on the matter, people seem to still have questions about women blessing. And of course they can do it. This letter was circulated and re-printed, hand written into journals, and mimeographed–tilted in with loving care to the material records my grandmothers entered at birth.

Thank heaven the danger is gone.

Comments

  1. As an EQ Secretary I took meeting notes, because the handbook said to. No one has ever asked for them.

  2. Really important. Thanks for sharing, J.

  3. Jennifer Roach says:

    So, why did women stop doing blessings?

  4. Jennifer, a number of things… primarily because of the trend of “correlation of charisma.”

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Jennifer, that is a complicated question, with a complicated answer (that is still being worked out). If you want something short, I would check out the Gospel Topics Essay on JS’s teachings about women, priesthood, and temple, along with the church history essay on healing. Both of those essays cite this paper, which is long, but is also the best place to look. My book has some additional material and discussion that I think are important as well.

  6. Jennifer Roach says:

    Thank you J. Stapley. I’m trying so hard to learn about all of this :-) Do you think women giving blessings will ever come back?

  7. J. Stapley says:

    Another difficult question! I tell you what, speaking as an historian, it seems more likely to me than not that church leaders will incorporate women into the healing and blessing liturgies of the church.

  8. Kristine says:

    The danger is gone for you. I don’t think it’s gone for women who want to write about these things.

  9. Roger T says:

    Thanks, Jonathan, for all your work on this issue (and others). Here’s a story for your collection. Several years ago, I home taught a man named Don, who died earlier this year. He had been a stake president in California. He told me once about a time when he had been asked to give a blessing to a family member. He said when he placed his hands on her head, his mind went totally blank, but he had a feeling that he was supposed to invite his wife, Betty Jo, to join the circle and place her hands on the blessing recipient’s head. So he invited Betty Jo to join the circle, and immediately his mind cleared and he was able to give the blessing. This happened many years ago, long before your first article on female blessings was published. Just shows, I suppose, that the Spirit is often way ahead of the official Church.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Kristine, I hope that is not the case. Though it is, I guess, true that any topic can be dangerous in the right context.

  11. The danger will be gone when the practice of laying on of hands by women is no longer taboo. But this is one step closer to the danger being gone. ❤️

  12. Kristine says:

    “in the right context”

    The context of two X chromosomes and a brain :)

  13. I am always amazed how each younger generation thinks they are the ones discovering long forgotten knowledge. Carol Lynn Pearson wrote about early LDS women giving blessings back in the ’60’s or ’70’s. It was widely discussed at BYU back then when I was a student. Perhaps it is news to people who have not read older literature, but it is not to women of my generation.

  14. J. Stapley says:

    Hi Hanna, thanks for stopping by. Carol’s short volume, Daughters of Light (1973) was incredibly important. If you have the patience to read through it, I think that you will find a lot that is new to you from the scholarship of the last decade.

  15. A bit older than you, J, but I remember from my childhood the ward clerk sitting up on the stand, taking minutes during sacrament meeting and even Fast/Testimony meeting. I worry that we are going to regret the end of that practice. The only minutes I have seen in church meetings in the last few years are informal notes during ward council, and the stake clerk taking notes in high council meetings. And I have no idea what happens to those if they are not referred back to in the next meeting. I do know that stakes still collect a “ward history” each year, but when I was still serving in a position on the ward council (mission leader, and before that HPGL), what I submitted generally exceeded the combined input from all other members of ward leadership.