Closing Sections (Doctrine & Covenants 135-138)

Monday, November 22, 2021


Thank you to both Kayla and Mary for working on this transcript!

Channing: Hi! I’m Channing.

Elise: And I’m Elise.

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:12] But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood.  We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 135 through 138 for the dates November 22nd through December 5th. We're so glad you're here, friends!

Elise: [00:58] Yes, welcome back. This is our first episode back after our “Polygamy in Pieces” series, which we had so much… I don't know if fun is the right word, but we were very, very into that series so much so that at this point, we're feeling a little like, ”Whew. We spent a lot of energy there and we're feeling a little run down towards the end of the year.” So for those reasons, we've decided to make one episode that's combining two weeks worth of Come Follow Me content.  

Channing: [01:28] Yes, this is totally true. We're so excited to be able to share thoughts with you today. But we also want to say this isn't the last episode of the year. We'll still have two more episodes that we're releasing covering Declarations One and Two, and some of the extra material that the Come Follow Me manual wanted to include this year. And we have some very exciting guests to share with you. So stick around. You'll still be hearing from us, even though we aren't covering Doctrine and Covenants anymore after this episode. 

Elise: [01:58] In today's episode, section 135 is actually the murder of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith. Then in section 136, we have Brigham Young and the saints at Winter Quarters, which is just, like, a small, small preview of hardship and trial and a huge shift and change in the church structure, because there's been a split after the murder of Joseph. Then the last two sections we'll cover today are two visions about the afterlife and salvation. And then finally, to wrap the episode up, we're going to share our closing thoughts about what it's been like to study and read through the Doctrine and Covenants for an entire year. Holy smokes.

Channing: [02:36] Yeah, it's been a long one. It's been a long one, but we're excited to dive in today and we'll start with section 135. And just like Elise said, this section covers the martyrdom and the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. This section is written by John Taylor, who was present for the murder. And in verse one, he writes, “To seal the testimony of this book,”- talking about the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon- “we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the prophet and Hyrum Smith the patriarch. They were shot in Carthage Jail on the 27th of June, 1844, about 5:00 PM by an armed mob of from 150 to 200 persons.” So this is a relatively short section; it's only seven verses long, and it's kind of a mixed bag between a report of facts (as author John Taylor knew them or remembered them) mixed with a really emotional and passionate eulogy. Taylor included quotes from Joseph Smith showing his belief that he would not return from Carthage. Verse four reads, “when Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself, he said, “I am like, I am going like a lamb unto the slaughter. I shall die innocent. And it shall be yet said of me he was murdered in cold blood.””

[03:59] We have this really passionate and moving eulogy written by Taylor. And I'm thankful for this passionate show of grief.  I think that for the members at the time, this section would have been really important to them. We also have statements from the author, John Taylor in verse three, such as this one, “Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer of the Lord has done more save Jesus only for the salvation of men in this world than any other man that has ever lived in it.”

[04:32] For me, I wanted to discuss this first because I think that it's had a problematic impact that I'd like to explore. But before I do that, I want to say that I really believe that this eulogy was written with the greatest love and respect by a friend for a beloved friend. And in that perspective, I don't necessarily want to critique the words as written, but rather the way that they've been used since the time of writing. I hope as readers that we can both honor John Taylor's eulogy for Joseph Smith while also saying, “whoa, this got a little bit out of hand.” That said, I think for me, the idea that “no one else has done as much for salvation as Joseph Smith, except for Jesus” is biased and limited. This perspective forgets all the many contributions others have made to salvation and restoration. This verse has contributed to a long held and staunchly defended belief that Joseph was Jesus: perfect and without reproach. And I think it has also kept Joseph Smith and his life history from scrutiny from within the church. 

[05:41] But I also think when we rank contributions to salvation in a hierarchy, or basically saying some people did more or their contributions are more important, we can forget that salvation and restoration are group projects. In a group project, we don't get anywhere or get anything done without the handiwork and help of others. In this case, Joseph Smith would not have had a Bible to read in English and be inspired by had William Tyndale not began translating the text into English and printing the copies centuries earlier. Indeed, there would have been no Bible at all if its authors had not taken the time to commit it to writing. And speaking of the Bible, there would be no Jesus if it wasn't for Ruth or for Tamar or for Mary- and we'll cover all of those stories next year- there would be no anybody if it wasn't for Eve. And if we move out from the text and into the world, we can see that there are still more contributions to restoration. We have people like Daisy Bates, who was a Black journalist and head of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP who worked for the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. We have Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen and LGBTQ plus activist and a drag mother to homeless and struggling LGBTQ youth. There's Mother Theresa, who spent her life in service to a single community in need, Sarah Deer, a lawyer, professor and advocate for the protection of native women, survivors of sexual violence is also a contributor to restoration. And we also have Dolores Cacuango a native rights leader and revolutionary from Ecuador in the early 20th century. 

[07:32] We have all of these incredible examples that restoration and salvation are group projects that include, and always have included, more than the white American man. We need each other. We need the art, the poetry, the advocacy, the strength, and the grit and the sacrifice, and ultimately the joy and sorrow and ideas and creativity from everyone. And the credit needs to be shared with the group.

[07:58] I think this is a time that we can look at the text and say, “alright, section 135 belongs in a certain context at a certain time.” John Taylor, like I said, was present at the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. This section was penned three weeks after that. We can imagine that Taylor was working through his own trauma and his own grief at the time of this writing. And we can hold that gently in this space and allow it to stay, remembering the things said in grief are not always necessarily capital “T” true and universally accepted. We can tell from this piece that Taylor had a deep love and respect for Joseph Smith. And we can also remember that his assertion that Joseph Smith had “done more save Jesus only for the salvation of men than any other man that lived in it'' are the words of a grieving man and not necessarily revelation or universal truth. All of that aside, I am grateful that this section is here. If I were honest, especially knowing the life of Joseph Smith, the Doctrine and Covenants would feel incomplete without it. 

Elise: [09:03] I appreciate what you shared here. I think it's actually a really gracious reading of the ways that we can kind of stay in the sorrow and the pain of section 135 while also recognizing, like, this was written in a very particular place in time in history. And I really can't imagine what it's like to lose your husband, your friend, your brother, your son, and the prophet. And when I read section 135 or sing “Praise to the Man”, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a tinge of sadness, but I think I'd also be lying if I said I didn't feel confused about the sadness because of Joseph Smith's messy and sometimes awful life. 

[09:44] And I also think that it's worth mentioning that the language in section 135 is quite striking. Joseph says that he feels “like a lamb going to the slaughter.” The section repeats how this murder was “the spilling of innocent blood.” And while I want to be clear that I'm not equating Joseph and Hyrum to these people, I do think that the experience of being hunted like a lamb and being murdered in cold blood is a common story in the United States, especially for Black folks, indigenous folks and people of color. However, lest we white Christian Americans try to think that we are the victims simply because this happened to Joseph, it is in fact the opposite. White Christian America and its judicial system is always the mob, the murderer, the judge, the jury, and the executioner fueled by white supremacy, sexism and misogyny, ableism, and homophobia. I think of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Brianna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ma'Khia Bryant, Ahmad Aubrey, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and I think of the murderers, cops and mobs who have gone free.

[10:51] This week, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges in relation to two men he shot and killed during a protest after an officer shot and killed Jacob Blake. As I've been on social media the last few days, I just want to share a few striking passages or tweets or posts that I've seen. One from Congresswoman, nurse, and activist Cori Bush on Twitter, who writes, “The judge, the jury, the defendant. It's white supremacy in action. The system isn't built to hold white supremacists accountable. It's why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages while white supremacist murderers walk free. I'm hurt. I'm angry. I'm heartbroken.”

[11:30] Another tweet from writer, organizer and journalist Zellie Imani says, “I think about all the protesters who sat or are still sitting in jail for destroying property while Kyle Rittenhouse goes home after destroying two lives. Buildings can be replaced, lives can't.”

[11:48] And I think I bring this up for a few reasons. And I'm sure that we've said it elsewhere on the podcast, but we should let our present day lives inform the way that we read sacred texts. They're not separate from our everyday lives. And so when I read about the murder of Joseph Smith and I'm reminded of a story where someone is hunted down and murdered in cold blood, and the system fails them the way that it's supposed to, I think of all of the same stories that have been repeated day after day after day, especially as it concerns Black folks, indigenous folks and people of color and the white supremacists who get to walk out Scot free. 

Channing: [12:28] Elise, I'm so glad that you brought that up because I do think it's important and it is especially relevant and that's something that's been important to us as we've recorded the podcast is to allow our current experience and to allow what's currently happening in the world to inform our reading of the text. And I think it is right to look at the way that section 135 shows up for us this week, especially as we're facing again the result of systemic violence and the prioritization of white bodies over black bodies.

[13:01] And this conversation is also reminding me of the work of the artist, John Henry. He has a collection titled Stranger Fruit. It reinterprets the classic sculpture by artist Michelangelo of Mary, the mother of Christ, holding the body of Christ after the crucifixion. So that's the Pietà. So what this collection by Jon Henry does, is it “reinterprets that piece by Michaelangelo in order to denounce police violence against Black men.” And that's from a headline from a website with an interview with the artist titled Photo Room. And this collection is a series of photos of Black mothers holding their Black sons. And it was really, really striking. And I know that for Elise and I as we kind of looked at this chapter, when we were looking for the women in the section, we were reminded of the women in this section and also all of the women who have ever lost a loved one to systemic violence. It really brought that to the forefront for us. 

Elise: [14:03] I'm so glad that you brought that up, especially because the next thing I wanted to talk about section 135, actually deals with the people that are left behind in the wakes of these murders. Because I think that sometimes we remember the dead and those who killed them and we often can forget those who are living. We think of those who have left, but not often those who are left behind. And I think that this photo series from Jon Henry does a little bit of both: it frames both the weeping sorrowful mothers and their children together. And so it doesn't break this link between the living and the dead. 

[14:42] And so going back to this week's section, I'm thinking about Emma Smith and Mary Smith, who was married to Hyrum, who were widowed now that their husbands were killed. And so thinking about these two women, today I'd like to read a few passages from a book called “Women's Rites: Feminist Liturgies for Life’s Journey” by Diann L. Neu. And I want to speak to Emma and Mary. And so I'd really like if we could imagine that we- all of us listeners– are coming together to offer support and love to Emma and Mary in this immense time of sorrow by creating a safe ritual or liturgical space. The author writes:

“Welcome, each of you to this liturgy for Emma and Mary. We are here to be with you, Emma and Mary, in your loss. We know that the death of Joseph and Hyrum has brought a major change in your life. We are with you and your children.”

Channing: [15:32] In this liturgy the author offers a reading from the book of Ruth chapter one, verses 16 through 21 to highlight the unshakeable bond between friends, women, and companions. They write:

“Do not urge me to go back and desert you” Ruth answered. “Where you will go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. I swear a solemn oath before God that nothing but death shall divide us.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said no more, and the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.”

Elise: [16:18] After this reading from the book of Ruth, we would offer a poem to Emma and Mary titled, “Widow's Psalm” by Miriam Therese Winter. It says:

All who keep at a distance 

come near and see my sorrow,

 come close and feel my pain. 

The love of my life has been taken away. 

I shall never be whole again

As I stand alone in the shadow of death 

I see no green in my Valley 

No flower beside my path 

no bird song breaks the silent void

around my broken heart

The light has been extinguished .

how can I carry on? 

It is hard to hold on to the vision 

Hard to find any meaning 

Hard to keep on going

when the point of it is all gone

O God of the resurrection

allow me to take my comfort

in the flesh our flesh created

let our spirit live forever

in the offspring of our love

May the child of my girlhood passion

life me again into laughter

and be there with me

when the trumpets sound for me

from my heavenly home

May the one I mourn

be waiting for me forever

hear me, heed me, Shaddai 

[17:27] And, Shaddai means the god of heaven in Hebrew.

Channing: [17:30] And this is the final piece offered as a prayer and a blessing on the widows. The author writes:

“Blessed are you, Gracious and Loving God, Wisdom Sophia, Compassionate Holy One, for you have given us our sisters, Emma and Mary. Bless her as she enters this journey of widowhood in her life. Fill her with family and friends to help her through her changes. Give her tears to cleanse her soul. Strengthen her to care for her children. Give her peace of mind and body, and hold her always in the palm of your hand. Amen. Blessed be. Let it be so.”

Elise: [18:11] So I hope that with this little liturgy or prayer or ritual that we were able to offer for Emma and Mary, you feel a little bit more connected to them. And maybe we get to understand this story of the murder of Joseph and Hyrum from a different perspective this time. 

Channing: [18:27] Elise, thank you so much for offering that beautiful liturgy and allowing us to look at this story in the Doctrine and Covenants through the eyes of women. I'm grateful for that and I hope that our listeners can feel and, maybe, get a sense of a different perspective and look at the story in a way that maybe we never have before. 

[18:47] As we move from section 135 and the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, we move into section 138, which is partnered and paired with section 137. And they both contain these really grand and beautiful visions of the afterlife and what salvation looks like. The Doctrine and Covenants ends with these two chapters. One- section 137- written by Joseph Smith at a way earlier date. If you remember, we talked about way early in the beginning of this year that the Doctrine and Covenants sections are not necessarily presented to us in order. Section 137 was written in 1836 while section 138 was written in 1918. So we have almost 80 years between these two sections that the Doctrine and Covenants ends with, and they're actually written by two different people; 137 by Joseph Smith and 138 by the later prophet Joseph Fielding Smith. And so it's really interesting to see again, just this variety of authors in this text that I had assumed for a long time was written only by Joseph Smith, but I was wrong. We even have sections in here from Brigham Young and an even later prophet.

[20:01] These two visions are quite detailed and very, very grand. In section 138 we have a whole list of people that Joseph Fielding Smith sees in the heavens. Among them listed are Adam and Eve, their son, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Isaiah, Ezekial, Daniel, and the list keeps on going. We also have concepts of resurrection and salvation and for me, I was really excited to come across verse 50 because it's a concept that is near and dear to my heart. It says, “For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” And while we're not going to go into much detail about this today, I did want to note that I find it relevant that throughout the Doctrine and Covenants and the scriptures in general, we get this really paradoxical view of bodies. Bodies are both permanent and impermanent. They're both immanent and transcendent, important and not. They're free and they're bridled, they're natural and they're of God. We see this in the way that bodies are treated in the text. Where some are valued and some are not, some are alive and some are dead, and some are joyful and some sorrowful. I find it significant that the body plays such a central role in Mormon theology. I personally haven't quite figured all this out yet or what it means and part of me hopes that I never do, but every time a verse like this pops up, it catches my eye and I store it away for future consideration.

[21:33] Something else that really stuck out to me, especially in section 138 is something that was written in the Come Follow Me manual. For one of the section headings it says, “The work of salvation is happening on both sides of the veil. As you read Doctrine and Covenants sections 138 verses 25-60, you could consider these questions: What do these verses teach about those who are participating in the work of salvation in the spirit world? Why is it important to understand that the work of salvation is being done on both sides of the veil?” 

[22:08] For me, this question is compelling because when I think about what does it mean to me that the work of salvation is being done on both sides of the veil– meaning both by the living and the spirits on the other side, in the afterlife– for me, it's a reminder to get to work. I think a lot of the gospel, at least in modern days, has a really laid back approach. I hear a lot of people saying, “oh, well, God will take care of it. Everything's going to get all figured out.” And I get the sense that there is a lot less urgency to do something about the world in the here and now. 

[22:47] Something that I've appreciated about reading the Doctrine and Covenants this year is that it's shown us that there's this really overarching belief throughout the entire text, in the immediacy and urgency of the gospel as a here and now concept. For the early saints, Zion wasn't a far away place of perfection. It was an empty field in Missouri, it was a swamp in Nauvoo and then it was a salted lake in Utah. Zion wasn't something we paid and saved up our tithing for. It was an immediate investment in the community through the law of consecration. 

[23:23] And this is meaningful to me for two reasons. First, it gets me off my butt and it reminds me that there's still so much work to be done and it needs to be done today. And it also reminds me that this work is never done alone. Building Zion is exhausting. It can be exciting and thrilling, but it also can be overwhelming. It can be disappointing and scary. This reminder that work is being done on both sides of the veil brings me hope because it reminds me that my work is not in vain. It tells me that my ancestors are behind me, cheering me on pulling threads and playing with strings behind the scenes to make miracles and push the work of love and liberation forward. It reminds me to not go apocalyptic, to doomsday the world and throw it all in the trash can and say, “it's hopeless, y'all need Jesus.” Because, again, Zion and salvation and restoration are a group project and it needs everyone. 

[24:25] And I feel like this is a really hopeful way to end a book that has brought some significant challenges to us. We always like to end the podcast on a positive note. You've probably noticed this about Elise and I. We always, even if the chapters have been really challenging, we're like, “okay, how do we end the episode on a happy note?” And I'm really glad to see that the Doctrine and Covenants did something along the same lines. What are your thoughts, Elise? 

Elise: [24:48] Yes, I can echo a lot of what you said. I think it's a powerful scene to end on, especially because as present-day readers we read it in chronological order. And so we kind of have the death of the prophet, then the saints moving through this huge trial to Utah, and then we have two final sections about like the promise that the work and salvation is a continual process that involves other people. And so I really think it's encouraging to see here that God calls all of Their people to help do this work together.

[25:23] And as I was reading the Revelations in Context book, I came across a woman who I had never learned about or heard about, but this is actually Brigham Young's daughter. Her name was Susa Young Gates and she was super into temple work and family history and genealogy during this early time for the saints. And she was also a really good friend of Joseph Fielding Smith who wrote section 138. In fact, she called him “my beloved and honored friend and brother”, where he called her his “beloved sister” and expressed his “truest, brotherly love” for her. Revelations in Context says that Susa was one of the most prominent LDS women of her time. She was a writer and editor and an educator, and she really felt called to the cause of family history and temple work. Revelations in Context says:

“Susa could hardly have done any more than she went on to do for the cause of family history and temple work. She wrote countless newspaper and magazine articles, taught class after class, and took the message on the road to many stakes in wards. She visited genealogical libraries in the Eastern United States and England and corresponded with genealogists from many other countries seeking greater knowledge and expertise. In these efforts, she also worked closely with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who had served as secretary of the Utah genealogical society”,

which was the church's official genealogical organization. Susa and Elder Smith often spoke together at genealogical meetings where she would come in and she would provide this practical instruction and methodology, whereas he would come in and lay the spiritual or theological foundations of genealogy work. However in Revelations in Context it says that Susa really felt like this was an uphill battle. She felt like people didn't really care about family history or genealogy work. And in 1918, the relief society general board had nearly voted to discontinue any type of genealogy lesson as the stake leaders reported that they were too difficult. It says:

“They suggested the lessons be simplified and emphasis placed on the spiritual rather than on the educational side of this set of this study. But Susa had long insisted that the spiritual and the practical dimensions of genealogy were complimentary. She says, ‘All the desired inspiration in the world will not save our dead. We must also have information in order to consummate that noble work.’”

And I'm a super fan of what she says here, because I think that it touches on one of the shortcomings of our church. Because I think that often we want to simplify or kind of water things down for fear of them being too difficult or too challenging or too controversial. Sometimes I think we want to just focus on the spiritual message of loving our neighbor and welcoming the stranger, but we want to strip it away of how we actually practically show up and do these things in the world. Which is why I think there's such this big kind of cognitive dissonance. When I think of white Christian America, the same Christians who will say I love my God, which means I love my neighbor and yet take no action to make that word flesh, to make that word actually show up in the everyday world.

[28:33] It also reminds me of a post that I was reading on Beyond The Block’s Facebook page. And I guess that one of their followers shared the video that James had made about Declaration Two. They had shared this video to their ward Facebook page, and I guess essentially their Bishopric told them to take it down and that they shouldn't really talk about this because it's not approved church material. To me, that sounds like, “Hey, we want to keep things easy and simple and not really ruffle any feathers. We want to teach people about what it means to love our neighbors. But when we actually have to look at our past and present racism in the church, and then we get called out to do something about it. No, no, no. We don't want that. We want it to be simple and not too difficult, which means not too uncomfortable.”

[29:18] So I'm appreciative here that Susa was such a big advocate for not trying to separate the spiritual and the theological from the everyday practical work. And you can read a lot more about Susa in Revelations in Context, but her connection to section 138 is that when she went to go visit her friend Joseph Fielding Smith, he actually let her read the transcript of his vision before it was published into this section.

[29:43] She also, like us, noted how remarkable it was that when God is kind of calling on all of Their people to help Them do this work of salvation that Eve and her daughters are specifically mentioned in those who work alongside God. And this way, I think I'm really appreciative for section 138, especially because Revelations in Context brings up a woman's relation to this section. 

[30:11] And as we kind of close the Doctrine and Covenants for the year, I know that Channing and I wanted to just kind of talk about what it's been like to read Doctrine and Covenants for an entire year. It has been– well, I think I can speak for both of us– it's been way different than reading the Book of Mormon. And I know it's going to be way different than reading the Old Testament next year. So I don't know. Do you have a place that you'd like to start? What has it been like for you reading the Doctrine and Covenants this year? 

Channing: [30:35] I think it's been really challenging and I don't think that this will surprise anyone, especially given that like halfway through the year, we had an entire episode talking about like how hard it is to read the Doctrine and Covenants as a woman and as a feminist reader. And there've been a couple of things that you and I have talked about throughout the year about why we feel like the Doctrine and Covenants has been so difficult. I think there's a couple of reasons. But for me the biggest, I don't know, there's kind of two things that I would say have been the biggest challenge. The first is that as a feminist reader and as a woman, I find the Doctrine and Covenants very painful to read. I feel like every time I opened it to read whatever the section was that week, it was like: men, men, men, a ton of mission calls, a ton of people getting called into apostleship, a ton of stories about men and a lot of information about the priesthood. And so I really struggled to find my place and to even find women within the text. I feel like I had to do deeper digging than what I had to do in the past. 

[31:41] And for me, I also found the text to be less engaging because I didn't feel as strongly that it was written like literature. I think that's one thing that I really enjoy about the Book of Mormon and about the Bible is I do feel like it reads more like a story in the sense that it has a little bit of artistry and poeticism. And not to say that those elements aren't included in the Doctrine and Covenants as well but I do feel like they are fewer and farther in between. And that's mostly because it reads as a historical text, right? Like, it's a lot of history. And in order to understand what's going on in the sections, it's almost necessary to have a little bit of historical background and you know, out of everything else, I feel like this has been the most frustrating part about reading the Doctrine and Covenants is because it takes so much time. 

[32:39] I've often said to people it's not just reading the sections, you know, sometimes the sections are only a couple of verses, but sometimes we have sections that are hundreds of verses long. And it's not only that we have to read those, but we have to read all of the historical information behind it. And that comes down to hours and hours of digging and research. And that's something that not a lot of people have time for. Certainly not people who work in or outside of the home. Not for people who raise children, not for people who keep a home. The people who know the most about church history are those who are paid to know. People like researchers, seminary teachers, church employees. There are some people who have a special talent or interest, which drives their research into church history but this is not usually your average member. And what really frustrates me about this is that there's no one easy, simple source to get our history from. A good example of this is the podcast. Church sources haven't included many of the women's stories that we've covered this year. The stories of Lucy Harris, Vienna Jacques, Emma Smith, the women of Zion's camp, all of these have come from independent research that is not included in church sources. Sure, most of it comes from BYU, but that doesn't necessarily ensure that it gets in front of most members' eyes. And for me, my question is how many people even read the Revelations in Context?

[34:06] And I'm also thinking about people who maybe don't have access to the internet or to our online resources. Is Revelations in Context a printed document that other people outside of the U.S. can get? I have no idea. And I also think too, when it comes to the wide availability of resources that members are just expected to know, I'm remembering that in our capitalist system and our capitalist society, people are overworked, they're tired. They don't maybe have access to knowledge or to the sources that are not mentioned in a printed copy of the manual. And so for me, at the end of the day, my primary frustration with the Doctrine and Covenants is that I really strongly believe that a full understanding of the text should be something that's accessible to everybody. And not just a few people who have the time and the resources to devote to this extra or additional in-depth study. And at least for Elise and I– and I don't know if this is a universal experience– but for us that has made reading the Doctrine and Covenants an experience that feels especially exhausting. So the burnout is real. The rundown is real around here. [laughs]

Elise: [35:22] Yeah, the burnout is real. And I can echo some of the things that you said. I think the Doctrine and Covenants, because it doesn't have that kind of traditional narrative, like a story that we can follow section through section as we follow a group of people or their descendants. I think that that is really challenging. But one of the things I was thinking about as I was typing out my kind of closing reflection thoughts is that even if that's not the same structure of the story of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is still a story. It's a story of maybe one that is a little bit more historical. It's a story that is built by all different types of genres mixed together. Like you said, we have mission calls, we have angry gods, we have letters and stories of suffering, we have very technical directions for organizing the church and we also have huge theological developments and pieces of doctrine that show up here. And so for me, that practice of trying to make sense of a story that doesn't feel like a story I'm comfortable with has been a difficult, but also I think rewarding type of process. 

[36:23] And I was really moved by the way that the Saints would continue to make meaning out of their own experience, the Saints faced so much trial and displacement and persecution and just overall wildness that I think that this is a story about people who are trying to make things good and trying to do their best to make things right and bring Zion here and now, because they think that that's what God is telling them to do. And so in that way, I feel very similar to the Saints. I think a generous reading is that we're all trying to make sense of this world and its sorrows and its joys.

[37:01] And then I also asked myself: in what ways has the Doctrine and Covenants changed me? And at first I said, “surely it has, but like how?” How has it? And the best thing I could come up with is just that I think that it's helped me practice appreciation for other people's understanding of God while also not feeling pressured to take on their story of God and make it my own. I think that the Doctrine and Covenants has emboldened me in my critiques of the institution because I've spent more time this year than ever before, studying about church history and policy and doctrine. And so, in a sense, I feel more informed about my tradition, which also means I have a greater capacity and responsibility to critique it and change it.

Channing: [37:41] I love that approach so, so much. And I love that question that you asked: how has the Doctrine and Covenants changed me? And I've been thinking about that one too. And for me, mostly I come at the Doctrine and Covenants through a lens of, oh my gosh, I really don't like reading this book, but also, as I've been considering how its challenges have also been something that I'm grateful for that's really kind of shaped, you know, my concluding thoughts about Doctrine and Covenants. I think because the Doctrine and Covenants is relatively recent history, like, it's only in the last 200 plus years that this has happened and it's uniquely Mormon- the Doctrine and Covenants isn't really about anyone else, except for the Mormon experience. It includes other people, of course, but it really is from a very particular perspective and because of this, because it's both recent and because it's uniquely mine, it makes it difficult for me to separate myself from it. We have an episode where we talked about mistaken missions, which was a mission recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants with people from the LDS church going to indigenous tribes to share the gospel with them. And during that episode, it required me to directly face the fact that Mormons played a significant role in the colonization of native communities. I couldn't claim that some far off person did this and then wag my finger at them, saying, "Oh, you bad person, you did something wrong.” I had to face the fact that this is my history, my heritage, and there's no escaping it or cutting it off. I had to face the fact that violent colonization is woven into the history of the church and the Doctrine and Covenants brought that front and center in a way that other books of scripture do not.

[39:39] And the same goes for the enslavement of black bodies. Our friends James and Derek, from Beyond the Block, published an Instagram post earlier this week regarding Doctrine and Covenants 134. They cited verse 12, which reads: 

“We do not believe it right to interfere with bond servants nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such influence we believe to be unlawful and unjust and dangerous to the peace of every government, allowing human beings to be held in servitude.”

[40:23] In their post, Beyond the Block writes:

“While it's not shocking that a United States American institution in 1835 would subscribe to white supremacy, seeing it in our sacred texts so blatantly can be jarring. What we want to acknowledge is that slavery was legal when section 134 verse 12 was published, but the verse is no less gross and troubling. Even when our legal system is operating correctly, justice can still be denied and that must be named. The disease of white supremacy let us believe that slave liberation was a threat and a danger though we worship a Christ that literally came to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke. What might it let us believe today [talking about white supremacy]? How might it be keeping us from living into our calling as a restored church of that Christ?”

[41:17] And this is just one example of an awful verse that was written in ink and therefore in the stone of our church history. We can't deny it. It is there and it appears in our holy books. We cannot simultaneously say that this is a worldwide church open to and meant for anyone when it implicitly and explicitly excludes. Racism in the church is not ancient history, not even close. Our parents and grandparents were alive when black members were not permitted to hold the priesthood or enter into temple covenants because of the color of their skin. So our church history is not just the murder of Joseph Smith. It is not just the persecution of the saints, but our history is also one of colonization, oppression, enslavement, discrimination, murder, abandonment, and harm of marginalized peoples. Doctrine and Covenants makes this abundantly clear.

[42:17] And because of this, we cannot relegate Doctrine and Covenants only to history. Because it's right there, right in our book, no matter how much the manual tries to skip over it or lighten it, we can't ignore it. The discussions, just like Beyond the Block say, are relevant. We must still be asking those same questions. What might white supremacy let us believe today? How might white supremacy be keeping us from living into our calling as the restored Church of Christ? Otherwise the Doctrine and Covenants is not a living text and the restoration has stopped short of completion. Liberation is not liberation until it is a fullness. 

[43:00] And so thinking again about that question that you asked earlier, Elise: how has the Doctrine and Covenants changed me? I think it's changed me because it's forced me to look at what is present in my heritage and my history and not to ignore it. I'm also thinking about things that I'm thankful for in the Doctrine and Covenants. Like you, I'm thankful for the opportunity to take a deeper look into the priesthood and understand what it is and what it is not. And how it functions based on exclusion and limitation. I'm extra thankful that this year provided section 121, which is this treatise on priesthood and how it ought to function. And I think that that will continue to prove relevant in all conversations regarding church leadership, as long as it relies on priesthood power.

[43:51] This year has also reminded me that power and leadership are qualities that are not only relegated to men, no matter what the current rhetoric would have us believe. Time and time again this year, we have found stories of women who have claimed priesthood power in leadership for themselves. They get baptized in rivers, witness on horses, speak eloquently and passionately. They serve, they fight, they march, they travel, and they sacrifice. With their examples, I have learned that discipleship and leadership is not always about priesthood, but it's about devotion. And so while Doctrine and Covenants has proven challenging for both Elise and I this year, I'm still grateful to have read it. And I still believe that it is a relevant text for the Mormon feminist. I also believe that it deserves more feminist scholarship and it deserves further scholarship from other marginalized voices. We can provide only one way to read the text, but there are infinite ways in which to understand any given section. We need the voices and the life experience of others to show us where Doctrine and Covenants has the seeds and the fertile ground to grow us into an even more beautiful and liberating restoration.

[45:06] So that really sums up Doctrine and Covenants for us-as if we could sum up, you know, an entire year's worth of experience reading these challenging, long, frustrating, and yet exciting and full-of-potential sections. So it's been a long year and we're really grateful to all of you for sticking it out with us.

Elise: [45:30] Friends, you know we love you so so much. And even though this is our last episode for the Doctrine and Covenants, don't worry, we still have two more episodes to end out this year with some very special guests. We love you so much. And we can't wait to talk with you soon. Bye!

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