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Emerson

The Mormon Practice Of Adoption

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For those interested in Mormon history:

From time to time, the history of early Mormonism's adoption practice comes into discussion, so I thought I would share the news to two phenomenal, recently released articles. They appear in the most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History, which should be arriving in your mailboxes this week. (If you don't subscribe, repent!) The first, titled “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” is written by Samuel Brown and covers the intellectual and ritual developments that led to adoption, ending with Joseph Smith's death in 1844. The research is an extension of Sam's book, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), which will be released later this year and will be perhaps the most sophisticated book on the development of Mormon thought to date. The second article, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” is written by Jonathan Stapley, a fantastic scholar who has already published two foundational articles this year (on female ritual healing, which appeared in Journal of Mormon History, and on Mormon deathbed rituals, which was published in BYU Studies), and the article covers the development, practice, and ending of adoption in the nineteenth century. J has been kind enough to provide a pdf of his paper here. Both articles are exhaustive and sophisticated, and should be required reading for those who wish to better understand the development of Mormon thought surrounding temple ordinances, polygamy, family relations, and the Kingdom of God.

This is their introduction to their dual-articles:

Mormonism’s Adoption Theology: An Introductory StatementSamuel M. Brown and Jonathan A. Stapley

Although early Mormonism has been the subject of scholarly scrutiny for almost two centuries, important elements of the early Mormon worldview remain relatively unknown. A set of teachings, rituals, and lived experiences grouped under the rubric of adoption represent one such facet of early Mormonism. The practice and theology of ritual adoption began with Joseph Smith—in basic contours—as a reinterpretation of an old and prevalent Christian concept with strong ties to the rite of baptism for the dead and a priesthood system Smith called patriarchal. Brigham Young and the other apostles amplified, redirected, and codified ritual adoption in the period immediately after Smith’s death, integrating it into temple liturgy and employing it in part as a response to the contrary claims of Smith’s biological family. The various stages of early adoption contain the themes, paradoxes, and tensions surrounding Joseph Smith’s afterlife vision of a vast, sacerdotal family.

Though Gordon Irving correctly situated adoption ritual within the Mormon salvation family and generated several hypotheses in the early 1970s, subsequent work on the topic has been largely limited to recitations of his treatment.[1] In the intervening decades, however, our understanding of the social and religious context for sacred adoption, the broader valences of practice and belief, and the nature of its cessation have progressed considerably, necessitating a new treatment.

In the accompanying pair of essays, we treat what is often termed the Mormon law of adoption. The first essay treats antecedents and early development, concluding with Smith’s death in 1844. The second essay opens with the ways that Brigham Young employed adoption in his assumption of control over the imperiled movement in the wake of Smith’s death. This second paper then brings the law of adoption through its heyday into its dismantling by Wilford Woodruff as part of significant transitions in Mormon thought and practice at the end of the nineteenth century.

Adoption theology is a reminder that the idea world of early Mormons was in some ways strikingly different from that of the early twenty-first century. Understanding this aspect of early Mormonism on its own terms may be useful to our era’s engagement of questions of human relationships and identity. The adoption theology of early Mormonism may inform discussions about topics as diverse as spirit birth, agency, kinship, salvation, and the nature and shape of family relationships. As one example among many, on the matter of spirit birth we feel that this expanded view of adoption theology provides a possible lens for understanding premortal divine parenthood as a process of adoption rather than the more familiar model associated with the Pratt brothers.

We do not suggest that the views held by the earliest Latter-day Saints should be normative for twenty-first-century Mormons in any specific tradition. We do believe that understanding the earliest meanings of this theology helps to illuminate its development and many of its modern instances. We believe that these insights can be brought into productive dialogue with later and current approaches.

More than anything, adoption is a testament to the extent to which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was meant to be the society of heaven and full membership in it the sign of and pathway to salvation and exaltation.

__________________________________________

  1. Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830–1900,” BYU Studies 14 (Spring 1974): 291–314. Rex Eugene Cooper, Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990), integrates adoption into a model deriving from Puritan covenant theology; his study is an important exception to this general observation.

Go forth and read!

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I'm eagerly awaiting my subscription copies of both BYU Studies and JMH to arrive to get my dose of J. Stapley goodness. I prefer reading these hardcopy, and am very much looking forward to getting them in my hands.

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*Bump*

Surely there must be other people interested in the Mormon theological practice of adoption? I mean come on!--it helps explain controversial stuff like polygamy!

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*Bump*

Surely there must be other people interested in the Mormon theological practice of adoption? I mean come on!--it helps explain controversial stuff like polygamy!

I'm also interested....just not much to say about it at this point.

There is a little information on this practice at FAIR already: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_polygamy/The_Law_of_Adoption

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*Bump*

Surely there must be other people interested in the Mormon theological practice of adoption? I mean come on!--it helps explain controversial stuff like polygamy!

Hi Emerson,

My own faith is that the early LDS church membership basically shouted "enough", and the Lord stopped revealing more of His laws and ordinances.

However, it was the time of the Gentiles, and much needed to be done before the Lord could begin the full literal restoration of the tribes of Israel. And without Israel in place, the complete Law of Adoption cannot be implemented. So the Law of Adoption was laid aside by the Gentile church even before it was fully understood.

In my non-LDS faith, here is the Law of Adoption (2BC 51) given to Israel at this time. It is so simple a child can understand. And yet, to me, it is a very profound principle and law.

Richard

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I am fascinated by this subject but like Sargon don't feel like I've got much to add to these scholarly papers.

Some of my personal experiences led me to ponder the pirnciple practiced by early saints and if I would be willing to take on that kind of calling if I were in their position.

The thing that led me to understand it the most was adoption, or for lack of a better description the Lord's use of priestood dynasties to unite his people. There are two reasons I think we no longer practice it today. One is the unreadiness of the worlds and some Saints to see beyond the carnal implications and understand the eternal nature of God's family. The other is perhaps with the larger population of the Church and more intermarriage between early church families and converts a more directed process is not needed as much as in the early establishment of this dispensation.

Being a convert married to a convert we do lack some of the priesthood tradition, support and lineage in our family. I can see a lot of positive spiritual outcomes of an adoptive sealing or polygamy.

Of course right now the Saints as a people are struggling enough with the law of monogamy.

In short the law of adoption is what helped me reconcile the doctrines of polygamy with my own sense of right.

Edited by DaddyG

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One thing that I've noticed about the remarks that Wilford Woodruff gave concerning adoption in 1894 is that he said "The Lord has told me that it is right for children to be sealed to their parents, and they to their parents just as far back as we can possibly obtain the records, and then have the last obtainable member sealed to the Prophet Joseph, who stands at the head of this dispensation." (Collected Discourses 4:67-68) We're well aware that we need not be adopted directly to priesthood leaders today, but it seems that we've forgotten about the instruction to have the last member we can find adopted to Joseph Smith. I've never heard of this being done, and have wanted to ask my temple President about it but haven't had time when I am there. Anyone know anything about this? Has anyone heard of such a thing being done recently?

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One thing that I've noticed about the remarks that Wilford Woodruff gave concerning adoption in 1894 is that he said "The Lord has told me that it is right for children to be sealed to their parents, and they to their parents just as far back as we can possibly obtain the records, and then have the last obtainable member sealed to the Prophet Joseph, who stands at the head of this dispensation." (Collected Discourses 4:67-68) We're well aware that we need not be adopted directly to priesthood leaders today, but it seems that we've forgotten about the instruction to have the last member we can find adopted to Joseph Smith. I've never heard of this being done, and have wanted to ask my temple President about it but haven't had time when I am there. Anyone know anything about this? Has anyone heard of such a thing being done recently?

By the early 1920s, the bit about sealing ultimate ancestors to Smith was redacted from publication. While I was unable to document why this shift occurred, personally, I imagine it was a result of the uncertainty of when one had exhausted all possibility of finding yet more ancestors. For more than a couple of decades now, the Church disallows temple work for people born before 1500, without special permission. Moreover all non-biological sealings require legal adoption proceedings, which didn't exist until recently. This is all to say that one is currently unable to seal one's ancestors to JS.

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This is incredibly exciting and I just downloaded Stapley's article.

It is threads like this that remind me how little I actually know. Just when I think I'm approaching an impressive amount of knowledge, I get a stinging backhand from humility itself.

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Just curious, is there anything on the history of the church on "sister-wives", where the (married) man and the woman have an understanding that they are to be sealed in the next life, and have a brother-sister relationship in this life.

I have heard the phrase floating around somewhere.

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