Star Wars and Stewardship with Beyond the Block (Doctrine & Covenants 51-57)

Monday, May 17, 2021


Elise: Welcome back. We're not just glad that you're here, we're especially glad because we have the two-and-only Derek and James from the Beyond the Block podcast. Derek and James, welcome. Do you mind introducing yourselves for our listeners?

James: Yeah, by all means. I am James. Pronouns: he, him. I’m one-half of this duo on Beyond the Block, lifelong member of the Church and a future seminarian. So that's exciting.

Derek: Yay. So I'm Derek. My pronouns are he and him, and I just love talking about the scriptures. I talk about them too much. I don't know if James is ever going to get tired of hearing me talk about the scriptures.

James: You stuck with me, bro.

Derek: But I'm so glad to be talking with the three of you right now.

Elise: Us, too. Thank you. It's cause for celebration. We're going to work our way through each section from this week's Come Follow Me chapters. Just to give a little bit of context, a lot of this comes from The Revelations in Context book, but these sections come out of the Saints desire for what they call like the New Jerusalem. I think that the Saints are looking and hoping for a Zion that they can build here and now, and they're trying to put together a plan for how they can make this happen. For the Saints, Zion isn't an abstract, far away metaphor. In these sections specifically, it's a city that the Saints must build. The Revelations in Context book says, “The New Jerusalem, also called Zion, was to be a refuge, a place of peace, or a center place.” For me, this brings to mind Book of Mormon stories from last year, especially when we think about the land of Jershon, which was set aside to be a place of refuge. It also makes me think about Zion being a place that we can strive for here and now, instead of something that's supposed to happen after we die, in the next life.

For me, I think that the author of The Revelations in Context section, does a pretty good job addressing the historical background and the tension between the white settlers and the white colonizers and the Wazhazhe upstream people, which later the French colonizers changed their name to the Osage people. These people were natives of the lower Missouri river area, the north-central Missouri area, and the near-present day Independence. If we take a look at Section 51, this is revelation that's given to Joseph Smith. At this time, the Saints are moving. The Saints that have been moving from the eastern states are starting to arrive in Ohio, and they're struggling with where do we put all of these people? We need to make some concrete arrangements for how the Saints are going to live and share land amongst one another. I know, Derek, you had some thoughts that stood out to you in this section.

Derek: I did, but ironically, I'm not talking too much about the content or application of the text, but really the origin and nature of this text itself. We've never really talked about this on Beyond the Block, but there is a very interesting historical development to the text that now is in the D&C. I think it's important to understand the precise nature of the scriptures if we're going to figure out what authority they have, how they should be interpreted, what weight to put on the wording and things like that. If we look at verse 3 of Section 51, it says, “Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.” Here we have this idea of Edward Partridge being the Bishop and implementing the Law of Consecration. As we will see, the Law of Consecration gets reinterpreted and adjusted in light of the reality of some of it didn't actually work out. Let's talk about the richness of our historical record.

We have a lot of sources. For the revelations of this period, we've got, in many cases, one or more manuscripts. Then we may have sections printed in the periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, 1832 to 1833. We may also have sections represented in the 1833 Book of Commandments and also in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. For each of these sections, we may have one, two, three, or even four versions of the same text. When we compare all of these versions, we notice something quite revealing, pun intended. These versions of these different revelations differ from each other, and not just in minor issues. We can see theological and institutional development in the same revelation as it's being revised for publication, compared to what it was before. We will see this leads to a trail of artifacts of Option Three thinking. Let me talk about what I mean by that, just really quickly to summarize, Rabbi Benay Lappe came up with this concept called Crash Theory. Crash Theory outlines that when a crash happens in a narrative, someone's faith narrative or other narratives, there are three and only three options. One is to deny the problem and pretend it didn't happen. Two is to abandon the narrative that crashed and start with something new, in a new narrative.

Then the three, and this is the really tricky one, it's to retell the narrative in light of the crash, accepting the crash and adapting to reality. What we see from the textual record is that certain revelations that were received in 1829, 30 and 31, for example, did not meet the needs of the growing church of Kirtland in 1835, when we have our first publication of the Doctrine and Covenants. Rather than receiving new revelations, Joseph Smith did something very interesting, he simply just changed the old text. He freely refined, revises and updates and reinterprets the text as he prepares them for publication. When we have the D&C published in 1835, Joseph brings the old text into alignment with the institutional and theological development that was then current. A lot of this has to do with the new theology or new terminology that needed to be in place at the time. Putting this new theology and new terminology into the text from years before gives the impression that it has always been there. As a passionate believer in a living God and in a living tradition, I'm fine with that. Institutional and doctrinal development is presupposed by the fact that we're a line-upon-line tradition. We often have to respond to crashes. Oh boy, Joseph Smith had a lot of crashes in his life, from the failure of the Kirtland bank, to being expelled out of Jackson County, Missouri, to being run out of, well, everywhere. Then, of course, his life ended with a crash and that was a devastating crash for the Latter-day Saint community.

My point is we've always had to really quickly change our narrative and figure out what we're doing. Here's the beautiful part, what I really like about what Joseph did is that instead of letting the original texts stand as a fossil record that would capture, over time, the development of the tradition, we would be able to see it developing, instead of doing that, Joseph just altered the text to provide a retroactive integration for the whole tradition to be unified. What are some of the implications of this? Well, it eliminates fundamentalist approaches to the scriptures that say the wording has to have been dictated by God, or it's infallible, it's unchanging, it's eternal. It shows that the text is a living tradition and it can undergo development and theoretically it can still undergo development.

Even after the text is canonized, it can be altered. This happened most famously with the 1835 D&C Section 101, which prohibited polygamy and insisted that the Saints were monogamous. It was simply deleted from the Doctrine and Covenants, and now we pretend that it never existed. My sources for all of this are primarily a Richard Howard's book Restoration Scriptures: a Study of Their Textual Development. Howard traces the development of not just the D&C, but also the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith translation. We see from a large amount of this evidence that Joseph simply overwrites the past wording that was received as the words of the Lord suddenly just got changed. Here's where we get back to Section 51, Howard points out that Section 51 and 42, both about consecration, ended up being changed when they were published in 1835. Originally the consecration was to be total, then what happened was that had to be revised in light of a crash.

Elise: I really appreciate this approach for Crash Theory, especially if we think about the way that the Doctrine and Covenants was revised, because it makes me think that instead of the Doctrine and Covenants being a first-and-final draft the minute Joseph Smith dictates it and writes it, that's the end-all be-all understanding of what was being revealed. I like thinking about it more like a draft that can be revised, a draft that can be scrapped and rewritten. I think you're right, that does move us away from fundamentalism. It moves us into this third option that you're outlining, which looks like adapting and creating.

Derek: Right. Exactly. Let's get into some of these examples. In sections 42 and 51, the language around stewardship, accountability and the Law of Consecration changed. What had originally been total consecration changed to the consecration of surplus for the support of the poor. What caused this change? Well, the system broke. Members who had left the faith, sued in the courts to recover their consecrated properties. This change was needed to address that situation, which hadn't been a situation when the revelation was first revealed, so even God's words can change. Here's some other examples. In 1830, when Section 20 was originally revealed, the Church had no high priests, high councils, bishops, or general conferences, but by 1835, all of these had emerged as part of the Church's institutional structure. When we look at the 1835 text of this same revelation, Joseph adds all of these things, giving the impression that they had been there all along and that they go back to 1830. This is something very interesting. Also in Section 20, Joseph moves in the direction of inclusion by changing the original text to make it gender neutral.

The original manuscript has “Behold, whosoever humbleth himself before God.” Then the 1835 published text has “All those who humble themselves before God.” There are other cases where terminology is retroactively changed. What were once seen as seer stones, after further theological reflection, were considered as a Urim and Thummim, or in Hebrew Urim veha-Tummim from the Bible. This change was made retroactive to 1829 in the text of Section 3. Also the gift of working with a rod in Section 8 now gets retroactively understood to be the Rod of Aaron. Here's another, for example, the original wording of the 1829 Section 5 contained a lot of harsh, uncompromising and almost foolish language about outsiders. Then in 1835, with the crash of the Saints being expelled from Jackson County, Missouri being still fresh in Joseph's memory, he altered the 1829 text to be milder and more restrained. Even God's words can change. One last example is the confirmation ritual. It went through a process of development between 1830 and 1835. As it emerged, the language around it is added in D&C 20 verse 41.

Even our understanding of ordinances is fluid. Similarly, we also see sometimes conference talks get heard one way over the pulpit, and then they realize, Oh, we got to change this for the printed edition. I want to get any reactions to this before I go on and talk about what do we do with that theologically?

James: One thought I had was that we learn as early as Section 1, that the language through which Joseph Smith or anybody else would receive revelation, would be imperfect. We know that the Lord is communicating to people according to their context, according to their understanding and that the way that the revelations, as we have them, is that can always be subject to change according to how much more we learn, how much more we can understand the language that we receive. We learn this pretty much from the first Section of Doctrine and Covenants, again, that the way we receive the knowledge and wisdom of the Lord is imperfect and that even what we have in our scriptural canon is subject to change as we grow and change and develop as people and as a church. I really liked that you brought this thought in. This is another understanding, another nugget of wisdom, that we gain for at least a second or third time as we read the Doctrine and Covenants, a truth that even the words as we have the written in our scriptures, can change as a result of us changing.

Channing: Piggybacking off of that, I appreciate knowing that the revelations can change, but also I feel a little bit disappointed or frustrated that the changes aren't like explicitly recorded. I wish that sometimes these changes had just been left in the text so that anyone who is taking the texts at face value, which is what a lot of more conservative, orthodox members do, would be able to see for themselves the theological and cultural changes over time. Not a lot of people do the intense background research like you do, Derek, or we do on the podcast, too. It would be nice for members to be able to see the changes happen through time in the actual text. Part of me wishes that Section 101 had been left in there so that we could see that at one point polygamy was specifically denounced. I wish that some of those things had been left so that the Church could take accountability for them, the early Saints could take accountability for them, and we would be able to watch them change over time. It's one of those nuanced, complex things where, Oh yes, it's cool, but I also wish that had been left in there.

Derek: Yeah. I think that gets into a really important question about what's the difference between playful, retroactive continuity and gas lighting? I think so much of that ends up being the impact. So much of that also is about informed consent. I'm fine with the tradition playing as long as we know what's happening, and then we see it play out that way. But you're right, if we don't know how the sources have changed, if we don't know what happened, then it can lead to some very misleading approaches to the text. One way of reconciling this is, I'm going to draw upon a German Lutheran systematic theologian named Wolfhart Pannenberg. He actually is the one who developted the concept of retroactive integration or retroactive continuity. All of you comic people and all of you movie people talking about retcons, that came from a theologian. Don't get rid of your theologians, please!

There's a summary of Wolfhard Pannenberg's theology by Frank Tupper, and I'm going to quote from it. Joseph was really adjusting to a lot of contingencies that this changed, or this happened, or this crash happened. This didn't work, and the bank didn't work, and Zion’s camp didn't work. We'll see later, certain commandments needed to be revoked based on something changed. Here's what Frank Tupper says about Pannenberg. “The continuity of contingent events converging as a unitary whole, is itself an expression of the faithfulness of God. Pannenberg contends only in this way, as the backward reaching incorporation of the contingently new into what has been the primary connection of history, be conceived without losing its contingency. Hence, the continuity of events is actually visible only in retrospect. Pannenberg’s conception of retroactive continuity ultimately means that history flows fundamentally from the future into the past. That the future is not basically a product of the past, the essential nature of the future lies in the unpredictable new thing that is hidden in the womb of the future.” The point is there's something beautiful about retconning in your theology. And I have the disclaimer, as long as you're honest about it and transparent, because what you're allowed to do is play with the tradition and incorporate new and unsurprising things.

We have a surprising God, we have an unpredictable God. That's something we learned from the D&C very clearly. Being able to go back and retell the narrative differently, in light of the new, is really what Option Three is all about. I want to say one last thing about this, is that I'm curious about the implications for how we receive the Proclamation on the Family. It very well could be that the language of the text itself will be one day altered in light of new experiences and new knowledge. Even if you see the text of The Proclamation as a revelation, updating the text to be inclusive of LGBT people will not be as radical of a change as we see in the textual changes in the D&C, which are revelations. If even God's words can change, if that can change, so also can the Proclamation be retconned. In fact, there's really 3 options with The Proclamation. One is you can say, ‘well, we're stuck with it. It doesn't work very well, but we're stuck with it, so we have to keep it.’ That's option one. Option two as well, it doesn't work, so we have to throw the whole thing out. Option three is in light of the fact that this doesn't quite work out, we're just going to retell it, and we're going to retell it in a way that works.

I totally think that it's absolutely possible and legitimate to just change the text of The Proclamation one day and say, ‘well, this is where we are now with it.’ Some people might try to have a loophole and say, ‘well, all of those changes in the 1830s were okay because these manuscript versions and the Book of Commandments and The Evening and Morning Star periodical, none of those were actually the canonized texts. They could be changed before they were canonized. They could be altered before they were placed in the 1835 D&C, which was canonized. My response to that is, yeah, that may be true, but the Proclamation on the Family wasn't canonized either. It is absolutely in the same position as all of these other drafts that ended up being canonized later. If you're going to try to use The Proclamation to hurt my people, you don't know Christ and you don't know Christ’s tradition. That is a living tradition of updating in light of new information.

James: I want to validate your comic book point, what you said about people updating and making text more relevant as they get more information. That's literally the whole plot of episode 7 through 9 of star Wars. This is literally A New Jedi Coming, not heeding the old sacred texts and then becoming a new kind of Jedi all on her own. That's the whole point. So if you love Star Wars and you don't believe what Derek is saying, renounce one of your fandoms, renounced your fandom of the gospel or renounce your fandom of Star Wars. One of them has to go.

Elise: Maybe you don't know, but Channing is a huge Star Wars fan. She got to go to the Star Wars Land in Disneyland, she might've been exalted there.

Channing: I was crying literal tears of joy. Peed my pants. I was jumping up and down. That's how happy I was.

James: That is amazing. Wow.

Elise: I’m really thankful for that, Derek, especially because you bring a really intellectual lens to the scriptures, but you also are a really fantastic translator for the everyday person. Not to share James's experience, but in our group chat last night, you were sharing what you were going to talk about. I know that the three of us were like, “we don't know what that means.” And James, you sent the gif from The Office that says “why don't you tell it to me like I'm 5.” That really summed up exactly how I was feeling, but I'm so grateful that you are able to be the translator between the really intellectual piece and then bring it back down to the everyday language. I think that's the way that it can come alive. So thank you so much for that.

James: Two things I want to address here. I think this may be the part where I want to address the economic justice piece, but not in great detail. Perhaps before handing this off to Channing to talk a little bit more about economic stewardship, I want to draw attention to the fact that economic justice, economic stewardship, that theme is brought up at least 3 or 4 times just in this lesson for the Come Follow Me. I think that's beautiful. I also feel to point to the repetition of this particular principle in the text, because in the whole of the Doctrine and Covenants, this is at least our third or fourth time talking about economic justice. The theme also comes up in the Book of Mormon. It comes up in the New Testament. It comes up in the Old Testament. The fact that economic justice is repeated so many times should clue us in to the fact that this is an important gospel principle.

You know what doesn't appear a bunch in the Bible, a phrase that we use a lot that never appears in the scriptures? Self-reliance. That doesn't mean I don't think that is an important principle and is worth having a conversation about, but I do think that we are, in more ways than one, contributing to this harmful narrative that fuels resentment, and even at times, hostility to the poor. Something that I did not know until my adult life was the fact that if we are going to do this whole pay-your-tithing, even if it bankrupts you, thing, or pay your tithing even if it means you starved, something the Bishop is supposed to do is recommend and offer the storehouse to you. This is something that so many of us do not want to take advantage of, because again, we do not have the highest opinion of poor people and we are conditioned to not want help. I will speak for myself in saying, I hate asking for help, especially financial help, because that hostility towards poor people is very much a part of my upbringing for reasons I can't comprehend, considering for at least four years of my life I depended on a free lunch at school. All this to say that I think it is important for us to talk a lot more about economic justice, a lot more about caring for the poor and the needy, than we do about self reliance and about language that shames people for not having. That's the first thing.

I also want to talk about the value of repetition just as a general principle in our scriptures. The use of repetition in our sacred texts usually emphasizes the importance of a person, of a theme, a principle, or a particular event. I guess that part would make sense for the gospels because the story of Jesus' earthly ministry and His mission, obviously the most important event in the history of the world, so it stands to reason that we get four or five books just talking about His ministry from different perspectives. I get that. There's another use of repetition that I like. Repetition offers credibility. In the ancient world, legal testimonies were considered valid if they could be substantiated by at least two or three witnesses. That's a principle we learn about in Deuteronomy, I believe 19:15. By having 4 separate accounts about the Lord's life and ministry, the Bible was offering a highly reliable portrait who Jesus was and what he taught. Obviously getting the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, of His teachings and a witness of His ministry post-resurrection, that lends more credibility and legitimacy to who He was and what He taught.

And now we're seeing it again with this principle of economic stewardship and economic justice. We see it multiple times just in this lesson. We see it multiple times in the Doctrine and Covenants. Like I said, this is like the fourth time we’ve come across that theme in the whole of the Doctrine and Covenants. I've lost count of how many times we brought it up in our study of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and in the New Testament. I want to lift this point up that when we see repetition in our scriptures, we need to be paying attention, especially of these themes that seem to run counter to what we talk about a lot in the walls of our church. In this particular example, the principle of economic justice, this principle of economic stewardship over this one of self-reliance. I want to use this to lift up the fact that we need to de-stigmatize helping the poor and the needy. De-stigmatize being poor and needy, and just make sure that we exercise more love, more compassion and less hostility, less hate, less resentment towards people who do fall into this category and need the help of the Saints who need the law of consecration in their lives, who need that benefit.

I saw this tweet the other day that highlighted just how ironic it was that we hated people, poor people in particular, just for having nice things. If we see a poor person who has well-dressed kids or who was able to actually feed their kids, but we don't get mad at the people who have multiple homes or fancy cars that they don't really need, it says a lot, particularly about our Western society, especially about American exceptionalism and this myth of meritocracy, this myth of capitalism not being tied up in things like ableism racism and just our general hatred of poor. I'm getting off on a tangent now, but all this to say repetition, pay attention to it. It's often a good thing and it tells us where we should be focusing.

Channing: I'm really grateful that you brought attention, especially to that contrast between what we're shown in the scriptures, which is economic stewardship and taking of each other, and the rhetoric of self-reliance within the Church. I remember when my family was living on WIC, which is a nutritional program for women, infants and children, and living on food stamps while my husband was in graduate school and couldn't work. I remember there being a lot of conversations between a lot of other families that were in the same situation, debating on whether or not we should be paying tithing on student loans when we were also living on food stamps. I always come back to this thought of, why was my religion in conflict with what my actual lived experience was? I still haven't really deconstructed that at all, but I do come back to that, especially when I'm thinking about these chapters of caring for each other and supporting each other. I'm really grateful again, for the attention turned to these chapters and saying, if it's repeated over and over again, it's worth paying attention to. Going back to what Derek said about retcon, how could we take these chapters into our new future and interpret them in a way that's relevant to today?

James: Okay. I more want to use what is present here in Section 53 to get us ready to talk about Section 56. I'll go ahead and read this verse that stood out to me. This is verse six. It says “Behold, these are the first ordinances which you shall receive; and the residue shall be made known in a time to come, according to your labor in my vineyard.” This isn't the first time we came across a burst like this, just to contextualize this. This is a revelation given to Sidney Gilbert. He is getting some revelation on what he's supposed to do with regard to his appointment in the Church. This is yet another person asking the servant of the Lord, “What's my place in this work?” This isn't anything new, members and non-members alike have been requesting this kind of revelation from the prophet Joseph and have been receiving it, often in short spurts, very similar to what we see in 53. But we do see something interesting here that hearkens back to another principle that we saw at the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants. And that principle is that oftentimes the Lord will give us a certain amount of revelation, He will give us just a little bit, and then He will give us further instruction as we progress along that particular revelation that He's given us.

I've heard it likened to power steering in that oftentimes we are given just enough to get going, and then as we move in a direction, then the Lord will steer us in the direction that we're supposed to be going. Pretty much Sidney is getting revelation to a certain point, but the Lord is also letting him know, if you are faithful with this much, then I will give you more, which makes a ton of sense. Again, he's one of the few people in the Doctrine and Covenants who is explicitly told this, that you are going to receive more revelation or more instruction as you are faithful to that which you have received. I wanted to highlight that, especially as we move into Section 56, where we learn significantly more about how the Lord works according to how His children exercise agency.

Channing: I'm really excited to talk more about that, James, as we move into Section 56, but before we get into that, I do have some thoughts about Section 54. It's just one little verse. It's Section 54 verse 9. This verse says, “And after you have done journeying, behold, I say unto you, seek ye a living like unto men, until I prepare a place for you.” I really loved this verse, especially as we move into Section 55, because I feel like some of the themes that I've been seeing in conversation with each other, especially in the last probably month or two in the Doctrine and Covenants, is this idea of we're trying to establish Zion here and now, and also looking forward. We come across a lot of apocalyptic language and a lot of like Second Coming imagery. I find it really interesting to see these two concepts in conversation with each other within the Doctrine and Covenants. It challenges me, but I also think that there's a lot that we can glean from sifting through what is offered here. Some of the questions that I wanted to ask in light of this verse, especially because it talks about the Lord is saying until I come, or until I prepare a place for you, or until I have the next step for you, I want you to live a full life here.

The Lord says “seek a living like unto men.” Put down roots, be present, work, be a part of the community. I wanted to put a question to all of you. What does this verse teach us about living in the present moment? Secondly, how can this presentness and this mindful living benefit our stewardship of ourselves and our community? I'm really curious what your thoughts are on this.

James: I have just one and I'll keep it short. A quote that came to mind was that if you spend your whole life waiting for the right moment or to be told explicitly what to do next, then you're going to spend your life standing still. I don't think that's what the Lord wants for us, to spend our lives standing still. This is something we're going to learn in the coming Sections, but the Lord really wants us to learn to exercise agency. It's how we grow. It's how we progress to godhood, as it were. I feel like one of the things that the Lord is teaching us in this verse, that you highlighted Channing, is learn to exercise that agency because that is how we progress to godhood and that is how we learn. That's how we improve. That's all I want to say.

Channing: James, I absolutely agree. I think that agency component is really key here, because you're right, what kind of life would it be if we were to come to earth and just wait and sit around to be told what to do next? I personally think that'd be really boring and I also have a lot of inherent resistance to that. I want to do what I want to do, and I don't know if that's prideful, but I also think that there's a lot of freedom and beauty in life when we are the agents of action in our own lives. I really appreciated this verse and this Section, especially as we move into Section 55, because there's another verse there that I also feel contributes an enlightening perspective on this idea of present-moment living. This verse in Section 55 it's verse 4, it says, “And again, you shall be ordained to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me.”

I loved this verse, especially in thinking about the importance of a Zion here and now, and the importance of investing in what we have in our lives in this present moment. I worked for a couple of months as a reading tutor for grades K through 2 at my daughter's elementary school. I'm so grateful for the experience because it taught me so much. One of the things that I learned the most, or I spent the most time thinking about, was how my time was invested in these growing readers. How important it was going to be to them to teach them the letters and the sounds and how to blend sounds together, and talking about the way that sounds are shaped in our mouths. Those really foundational building blocks of teaching these students to read, how important it was going to be to them as they progress through their education. As they progress through their lives. I remember having a conversation with Elise about this. I remember telling her, to them, I am just another adult. I spend my time teaching them. I see them every day. But in 10 years are they going to remember my name?

Are they going to remember the time that we spent together? I don't think so. But for me, it was really important to be a part of their journey and their growth, because I felt like it was a way that I was investing in my community and helping these kids for success later on in their lives. For me, that really brought out a personal experience that I felt like was relevant and really impactful in my understanding of what it means to provide support, and a little bit of economic stewardship or stewardship of the people that I have in my community. Derek, I know that you have some thoughts you wanted to share about this verse as well.

Derek: Yeah. Thank you so much, Channing, for that perspective. It's a good, refreshing reminder about the need to center children. That's something that I, not having children, don't really think about children the same way that others might. On Beyond the Block, we haven't focused much on what's called Children's Liberation Theology. I want to name the implications of recognizing children as a marginalized and disempowered population, because they are.

We don't even think about it. Even if we care about children, we might not even look at the structural imbalances there, adults have so much structural power over children. I see this in schools, in the injustice of our school system. We see this with the physical abuse of children. We see this in the many ways, children have very little organized voice. When we have conversations in the social justice community about oppressed groups, children are often left out. Children are the marginalized among the marginalized. There are intersectional components as well. Tamir Rice was a child, for example. Ma’Khiah Bryant, she was a child. For those who don't know, this is the young black girl who was murdered by police at the very moment that we heard the verdict of George Floyd's murderer. We've got all these intersectionalities where Black children are treated differently than white children. The children of LGBT parents were callously attacked in the November 2015 policy.

Also, girls are given fewer opportunities than boys in a wide variety of contexts. Disabled children's options to advocate for themselves are limited by adults. Then there's theological questions as well. We don't really talk a lot about the theology of childhood, but for example, does one's theology claim that unbaptized children are destined for hell? For me, the biggest champion of children was Jesus. In Matthew 19, when people tried to prevent the children from coming to Him, He said, “Let the children come to me and don't try to stop them. That's what the kingdom of God is like.” We need to take that seriously. Children's Liberation Theology begins and is grounded in the concrete reality that the God of the universe was incarnated as a child. It should surprise us every Christmas that God appeared to us as a child. Jesus, Himself, had a special concern for children and that alone should prompt us to recognize adultism in our society and advocate for children's dignity. Here's what one theologian said. R.L. Stollar says, “Child liberation theology thus begins with the Child that is Jesus and the children of all histories and locations who bear God's image. And it places these children at the center of religious texts. It asks us to consider religious texts from the vantage point of those children—from the vantage point of Jesus as the God Child and all children as God Images.” I don't know if anyone had any thoughts about that, but I thought it was important to name this.

Channing: Yes, I do, both as my experience as reading tutor and as a mom. Since having children and now that I have a daughter who is incredibly sensitive and Primary age, I do find myself looking at a lot of our Church materials and the lessons that we're teaching in Primary through her eyes. I do come across quite a few problems. I also appreciate you bringing up the perspective and the problem of adultism. I think a lot of times as adults, we assume that we know exactly what children need. I think that we come at this with the best of intentions because we have research. We have experience, we have all of these tools and ideas at our disposal. I came across this time and time again in my experience as a reading tutor. So often a student would be having a problem, and the adults around them would say like, “Oh, well, like we've tried everything. There's really not a whole lot more we can do for the student. It just sucks, but this is just the way that it is.”

I think children don't benefit from that perspective when adults feel that we've exhausted all of our options. When really, if we take a step back and look at the problem from the child's eyes, we can then gain a perspective of what they're dealing with and how to truly meet their needs. I love this idea of a child-centered theology and experiencing the world, the church, our religious experiences and just our general lives, through the eyes of children. I think that one of our very most favorite scripture mastery scriptures pertains to this. It’s the one from Mosiah that says “and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” I think there's problems in that verse, too, but I think that our teachings about children have a lot to offer us as adults. The encouragement isn't to regress, but to change our perspective and to make it more inclusive, not just to the children in our lives that are around and outside us, but also the children that live within us, too.

James: Thanks for sharing that Channing. Just one thing I wanted to point to was just how severe the Savior named the punishment for those who offend children. I was just thinking to myself “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Hearing the Savior say such, for lack of a better word, a violent and definitive thing about what should happen to people who hurt children, that should tell us how much we ought to value them. I'll say from my own experience, I am not all that similar to what I was when I was a child, but if there's one ideology I've hung on to since I was a child, is that adults are trash and they really need to do better. Just look at who we have put in charge, how many of the world's problems we have solved or haven't solved. We don't know what we're doing. We're trash for a lot of what we are putting this world through and what our children are going to have to deal with.

I was watching this exchange between three different generations of Civil Rights fighters. There was a man there who was in his seventies, another man there who was in his thirties or forties, and then another young man there who was in his twenties. The man in his thirties was talking to these two. He's like, “Look, he's 70 years old, he's still mad he's still having this conversation. I'm 30 years old. I'm still mad. You 20, you mad. You got to do better than we did. We don't know. We did the best that we could, but we didn't do this the right way.” I see it with my own nieces and nephews, but I see just how much wiser they are, being raised under the tutelage of their mother. They don't ask questions about people's sexuality. They don't assume improper things about sexuality, about race, about mental health. All of those conversations are happening and they're growing up in a world that is kind of trash that they are going to have to fix. I just want to echo and add my testimony to how we talk about children and how we incorporate them into our theology, because they are ultimately going to be the ones that have to, for lack of a better word, clean up our mess, and we need to put them in a position to do that. We also need to put them in a position, in the first place, where they shouldn't have to do that. Sorry, a little bit of a ramble, but I just wanted to add witness to the importance of this conversation about children.

Derek: I believe the children are our future.

James: ♪ Teach them well and let them lead the way. ♫ Show them all the beauty they possess inside ♪♫ Something I wanted to go over in Section 56 is talked about in verse 4 and also in verse 6. This is something that I want to acknowledge can be a little disconcerting to some people who read it. I'll just go ahead and read the verse. This is again, 56 verse 4. The Lord is saying “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.” Again, I want to acknowledge the tension that some folks may feel at this notion that a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, who changeth not, who is an omniscient being, who can command and revoke as seemeth Him good, whenever He feels like it. It seems inconsistent at a glance to some people who are going to read this, but this verse also shows us that agency is a big part of how God operates and that the Lord can be reactive in ways that protect us and uplift us, and also in ways that cut us off from blessings. We see this in the scriptures with Jonah, when the Lord says he's going to destroy Nineveh in 40 days, but then they repent and they're spared. We see this in Exodus a couple of times. For example, when the children of Israel have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a consequence of a sin. Also when they made a golden calf and the Lord intended to let his wrath fall upon them, to the point where he was like, “leave me alone, Moses, these people are mine. I'm going to handle them, leave me alone. Don't talk to me now.”

But Moses was just like, “Repent of this Lord.” He told the Lord to repent. That was the word he used. And you know what the Lord did? He repented. Moses convinced the Lord to turn away His wrath. And now in this particular instance, we see that Leman Copley's breaking of his covenant to let the New York Saints settle on his land, as well as Ezra Thayre’s delay in responding to the Lord's call, both of those things have laid a stumbling block for the Saints and something needed to be done because of how these men ultimately exercise their agency. In verse 4, the Lord states that his revocation is a consequence of rebellion. And in verse 6, He also revoked the commandment for Newell and Selah’s companionship “in consequence of the stiffneckedness of my people…and their rebellions.” There's that word again, rebellion. Could the Lord had used his foreknowledge to avoid calling them to that work? After all, He seemed to at least know what Ezra would do was a possibility when He said that Ezra would have to humble himself, and that he could join Thomas if he was obedient to his commandments. I think that's the word they use in The Revelations in Context.

Probably the Lord could have done that, but that would have denied these men the opportunity to exercise their agency. That's kind of the point of mortality, to bring that up again. Their fates would have been predetermined rather than God empowering them to choose for themselves. I think that needs to be part of the equation, people need to be allowed to exercise their agency, even if the Lord does know that rebellion is a probability. The Lord can figure that out. If people do go against his plans, like the famous phrase in the Black community is that ‘the Lord makes a way out of no way.’ To say that the Lord can't make a way out of somebodies rebellion, He made a way out of the Garden of Eden. We see that in the first chapters of Genesis, so the Lord can handle people not obeying His commandments and His calls. We can't put God in a box to the point where we can't say that He can't revoke His calls or that He can revoke His commandments or He can't change His mind. He's doing this in response, in reaction, to how His children exercise their agency. All this to say that a God who can change His mind, a God who can change, a God who can revoke His commandments and His calls, that is entirely consistent with the God that we experienced throughout the scriptures, a God who is responsive and reactive to the actions of His children.

Elise: Not with a lot of answers, mostly just questions. When I first read this section about the Lord revoking commandments, I was pleased by it because, just like you were saying, James, I thought it showed a God that was responsive and adaptive and changing. But I also know that there is a different understanding of God, that at other times in my life I've really relied on. That is this unchanging consistency of God, especially in the Church, we place a lot of value onto the idea that God is bound when we do what He says.

James: He says, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

Elise: There's this idea of God being bound by our choices. At other times in my life, I found that really comforting that I can do my part and then God's not going to change what the promise was or what the terms of conditions were. But here, for some reason, I do appreciate the revoke of the commandment because, maybe even though the people in these sections don't see it, I still think that God is doing it for their good. I would hope that at some point in my life, if I needed a commandment to be changed or adapted for me, God would do that for me, too, instead of saying, “well, you know, you made this promise, and so I can't really go back on it, even though it's not what's in your best interest.”

Channing: So there was one time back in my life when I really was in this box of if I say I'm going to do one thing, then God is going to hold up God's end of the deal and it's going to be all good. There was one time where I ate raw cookie dough and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm gonna die.’ Like that night. I thought that something terrible was going to happen. So I made a promise right then and there with all of my heart, you guys. And I was older, I think it was in my late twenties. I told God, I will never eat raw cookie dough ever again if I don't die tonight. Obviously, I had some other issues going on, but for years, I'm talking five, seven years, I never had raw cookie dough ever again because I made this promise to God that if I didn't die, I wouldn’t eat cookie dough ever again. Finally, at some point, my friend was like, “So do you eat fried eggs?” And I was like, “yeah.” And she's like, “that's basically the same thing.” And I was like, “Oh shoot, I've been living this promise that I made to God for a long time that probably God doesn't even care about. I wouldn't have died that night anyway.” So when I think about this promise, God is bound, the way that I've come to terms with that is God is bound to love. God is bound to taking care of us. God is bound to a covenant of care and concern and ultimately love. So God is changing in the way that God shows their love to us.

For me, when I was ready to change my covenant that I would never eat raw cookie dough ever again, I'm hoping that God is like, “finally, that was such a stupid promise in the first place,” and has been responsive to my needs or my wants since then. That is the perspective that I come to this idea of a changing/unchanging God, is that. And I love that. What you said earlier in the episode, Derek, about the future being just in front of us and it's okay for the past to change with our future, because our future actually dictates what happened behind us. I think that same concept applies here, that when we're ready to step into a new understanding of love, that it colors everything else that we've experienced behind us in a new light, and can, in my hope, bring us closer to an increased understanding of what God, as love, looks like for us personally.

James: I love that story, actually. Channing making her promises in her late twenties about eating raw cookie dough. I guarantee you, everybody got a story like that in their twenties.

Channing: One of the other thoughts that I had while reading this verse 4, that says “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemed with me good.” One of the thoughts that I had reading this verse in context of this Section, and the Sections before it is, I'm wondering if maybe there's a little bit of conflation between the word ‘commandment’ and what we would understand now to be a church calling or mission calling, because a lot of the commandments that we're seeing revoked in the Section are commandments for people to go out and preach the gospel in certain places. I'm wondering if maybe this could highlight some of our understanding of what it means to be called to do something, because I think that there are certain commandments that God doesn't revoke, like thou shalt not murder.

The commandment that we see in this Section, and all of the ones, like you said James, that have been repeated over and over again about economic justice, those haven't been revoked. I wonder if there's a misunderstanding or an unintentional relationship between a command, between a commitment and a calling. I did want to bring it to our listeners’ attention so that they can look at the text and decide for themselves and see that there's a different perspective or maybe a different way to look at the chapters, especially for those who might be feeling pretty concerned about the fact that commandments can change. This might be one way to look at the text and, like we always say on the podcast, we offer one way, not THE way, to interpret the text. You have freedom and agency and permission to do whatever you need to walk away from this text feeling fulfilled and blessed. So take it or leave it friends.

Elise: As we move into the last Section for this week, this is Section 57, one of the things that stood out to me was the repetition of the word ‘inheritance.’ The Lord talks about distributing land as an inheritance to the Saints that are moving into Ohio, and to the Saints that are moving to Missouri. For me, there was a contrast between what we saw in some of the first Sections. I think in Section 51, there was a really fantastic verse about stewardship. Then in the very ending, in Section 57, we hear about inheritance. I'm trying to sketch out the relationship between these two different ideas from Section 51 verse 19. The verse read “And whoso has found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.” In Section 57 verses 5, 7. and 15, we hear verses like “Behold, this is wisdom, that they may obtain it for an everlasting inheritance,” or “divide unto the saints their inheritance, even as I have commanded.” Some of my thoughts about the difference between stewardship or inheritance. For stewardship, I think that there is maybe an ethic of holistic care, being that stewardship is about something that is lended to us, often from God, that we are called to caretake.

We know that it's not ours, but we have this calling or responsibility to take care of the land or to take care of our neighbors. Whereas inheritance, it almost sounds like, in a good way it sounds like a gift from God that we are heirs to all of that. We are heirs to everything that God has, and that God wants us to have this abundant and rich life and to have all of our needs met and then some. I think we can get into tricky territory if we think of inheritance as divine right or manifest destiny or having absolute authority given from God. I'm thinking of the divine right of Kings in Europe, where basically the King says, “I received all my power and authority from God, so no one can hold me responsible or accountable and I can do whatever I want in this time.” It also makes me think of the story of the prodigal son, where both sons get the inheritance from their father.

They really have full autonomy to use this inheritance however they want. Sometimes that doesn't mean that we use our inheritance responsibly or for the good of all people. I think that I'm just trying to grapple with my responsibility. I like the idea of God passing things off to me and giving me all of their inheritance, but I also think that for our everyday experience, I would like to understand myself as a steward as opposed to an heir, because for me a steward looks like holding myself accountable to another party. I think that there is a sharing and attending and a caretaking that says I'm trusting you with this bit. So while there might not be as much autonomy as if I was just the heir to spend my inheritance however I want, I think that there's a responsibility that I have as a steward to make sure that all of my work and my effort is with an eye towards both God and others. That looks more like love as opposed to maybe reckless spending. What are other people's thoughts about these ideas?

James: Let me say how much I love that this is yet another thing we can bring back to economic justice we were introduced to, I guess reintroduced to the law of consecration in these Sections. The Saints were starting to practice it in this part of the story and this part of their history and the way that it worked was they would deed their stuff to the church, and then the church would give it back, but call them stewards of it rather than owners of it. That's how I wish we viewed ourselves, especially those of us who are wealthy. I'm not counting any of us in the conversation, but we're out here with our unique gifts, our possessions, and we're not really owners of it.

We are stewards of the stuff that we have, which frames the way that we operate with our gifts in a very different way. When we view ourselves as stewards over our unique talents, over our unique gifts, over these platforms that we've been given over our wealth, we treat it a whole lot differently and we treat it with more reverence, dare I say. That is one more thing that I wanted to hearken back, since we're talking about stewardship is just how much this is tied to economic justice. Channing, you talked about it before, but this notion of environmental stewardship, when we viewed the land as something we take care of, something that we are given stewardship over rather than something that we own, we treat it a lot differently. We do a lot of that stuff differently. I had other thoughts, too, but that's the only one I can remember at this time. Thanks for sharing that and bringing that to my memory.

Channing: Absolutely.

Elise: I also think that as a steward, there are a more prerequisites involved to being a good steward. We see that outlined in Section 51. We have to be faithful and wise, whereas with an inheritance, I don't necessarily think there's anything that you have to do to earn it. You show up and you are the heir and you can get it all. But with a steward, there might be some more prerequisites. I'm worried that might make it inaccessible to some people, but maybe those prerequisites are necessary if we truly want to take good care of one another or the land.

Channing: I think the prerequisites are less about you have to be born into the right family and you have to be born with a certain skin color and have access to all the things. The prerequisites are values, justice, righteousness, I don't remember the other ones, but those are things that anyone can have, anyone can access those, so I don't think that the prerequisites are exclusive in the way that they exclude people from becoming stewards or from having the opportunity to be a steward. It's an equal access opportunity, but you do have to meet the requirements, and really what those come down to is just making choices and sticking to an ethic of care. At that point, stewardship isn't exclusive, it is the bare minimum requirement of being a good human. Can I share a thought I had to, especially tying in environmental stewardship and economic stewardship, and then also pulling in that piece about stewardship over our children or the children in our communities?

There's a quote from Wendell Berry. He says we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. I wonder if this is the lens that we can look at this entire week's worth of Sections in recognizing that this might be our inheritance that we're receiving, but we're stewards over it because it's passing through us to be received by someone else. Are we giving it back in the condition that we received it in? Are we caring for and setting up the next generation for success? Do we honor the reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the earth, ourselves and our community, ourselves and our children. All of these things are requirements of a good steward. I wonder if we can view these Sections as a guideline or as guidance for stewardship. Just some thoughts that I had about all of these chapters, but I think it's fascinating to view it in that lens. I'm grateful to see the early Saints grappling with these themes in these questions, because I think that it, viewed in a certain light, enlightened us to a potential new relationship with ourselves, with God, with the earth with others. Just some thoughts, friends.

Elise: Thank you so much for joining us today. This was a fantastic conversation and we were super blessed and honored to have the brothers at Beyond the Block, James and Derek, with us. Thank you both so much for joining us. I hope you had a good time.

James: Had a wonderful time. Thank you.

Derek: Yeah. Always great to talk about the scriptures.

Channing: We agree. Will you let our listeners know where they can find you?

James: Yes. You can find us at All of our socials are linked there. You can find us @BTBLDS on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find us, beyond the block, on Facebook.

Elise: Awesome. Well, thank you all so much and we can't wait to talk to you again next week. Bye.
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