Tares and Civil Unrest (Doctrine and Covenants 85-87)

Monday, August 2, 2021


Channing: [00:00:11] This is the faithful feminists podcast,

Elise: [00:00:14] But this is not just any come follow me podcast, we do things a little differently. 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: [00:00:38] We saved you a seat on the soft chairs, so join us today for a conversation about doctrine and covenants sections 85 through 87 for the dates August 2nd through the 8th.
We're so glad you're here.

Elise: [00:01:03] And we're so glad that we're back. Thanks so much, everyone for listening to our two-in-one episode while we were away, we were so, so glad that we got to spend honestly magical and dreamy weekend up in Utah together. So thanks for being patient, but we're super excited to be back on the podcast.

Now this week we have three sections of revelation. Um, the first section is really Joseph Smith kind of asking and thinking about what they are supposed to do with the saints who didn't follow through on the commandment to consecrate their land. The second section is all about the parable of the wheat and tares.
And finally, in section 87, we hear Joseph speak of the threat of civil war and the disputes in the US during this time. I think that we can go ahead and start in section 86, because this is the parable of the wheat and the tares. And I know that this was something that really spoke to both you and I.

So a brief summary of this parable, this is the Lord who's telling the story. And the Lord talks about how once upon a time there was a farmer who had a big farm full of wheat. And the people that helped sew the wheat were the apostles. But later there is a persecutor of the church or an apostate person that comes even Satan and like sprinkles, all of these tear seeds in the midst of the wheat seeds.

And lots of people are thrown into a really big fuss about this. Even the angels that are crying into heaven saying, no, no, no, you really need to like separate all the wheat from the tares and you really need to do it sooner than that. But the Lord says, no, we're not separating them. We're going to let them grow together for a bit until the harvest is fully.

I have a few beginning thoughts, first of all, if you've listened to the podcasts at all, you'll know that Channing and I love stories. And so that also means that we love parables because parables are stories. And with this parable, I think that I'm reminded that I shouldn't overanalyze or like overthink it instead.
I should really try and experience it and apply it to my real life here. 

Channing: [00:03:05] One of the conversations that we had about this parable of the wheat and the tares after talking through it, um, and just kind of sharing our initial thoughts about it. I remember you saying Elise, it can't be that easy, like it is not that easy to just separate people into two categories. And so I really loved that. You were just so honest and frank about it. Like, wait a second. The story in and of itself is kind of limited. And like, it can't, it cannot be this easy. I just, I love that. Yeah. 

Elise: [00:03:36] One of the things you reminded me of, or in our, that our conversation reminded me of is that like, I can't, like these parables were meant these were stories that were told on the roadside and around tables and they had to be like accessible without being watered down. And they had to point you toward heaven without letting you slip along the way. And so I think it's a good reminder that parables, aren't going to capture everything and look through everything with a critical lens.

Every time, sometimes there'll be more direct. Sometimes there'll be more cryptic. But I think that the point of a good story is that it has, it teaches us something about how to live our lives here. And now for me personally, I think that the story taught me a lot about staying clear of my certainty. And also learning to love those with whom we share space, no matter how different they are.

Channing: [00:04:28] Beautiful. Could you tell me more about that? 

Elise: [00:04:31] Yeah, I think that the, well, the first thing that I learned is this kind of like caution against certainty or like thinking that I am the right one. And I think that this story can become weaponized when we are so certain that we are the wheat and we try to like jumpstart God's job and try and do it for them by separating all those we deemed good and all those we deem good for nothing or the apostate tares. And what ends up happening is that we ultimately end up casting them aside and reminding them and ourselves that they've really like soiled our lot and we should have nothing to do with them. Right. I found a really great article that talks about this parable on the exponent blog written by someone named Trudy and the title was, “we don't know who the tares are”

The author writes, quote, “people who reference this parable often do it in such a way that they indicate that they're certain that they're the wheat and the people they're criticizing are surely the tares, the point of the parable is that only God knows which people are wheat and which people are tares. We don't know. And until the harvest, we can't. We are not charged with separating the wheat from the tares. And when we try to do so, we are usurping God's job and doing it poorly to the detriment of the Saint,” end quote. So again, and just this reminder that first of all, we don't know if we are the wheat and those people over there are the tares. And more often than not, I'm probably a tear in this. And so my job isn't to judge and try and separate prematurely. That's that stuff can be handled with God, like during the harvest. But my job here, my job here is to grow together, whether I'm a wheat or a tear.

Channing: [00:06:25] Yeah. Um, one of the things that I came across, one of the things that I came across in my strange research of this chapter was I actually got really curious about what the actual plant is that people are calling tares. So I looked it up and it's Latin name. We will write it in the transcript. So don't stress about trying to figure out what this actually is.

It's name is Lolium and it is it literally looks like wheat. Like it doesn't look exactly the same, but it looks pretty similar and you could distinguish them two when they're growing side-by-side. But if you were to harvest them and take the seeds out at the very end of the harvest, unless you were very well-trained, you would not be able to distinguish what is a tear seed and what is a wheat.

And I thought that was really interesting that they look so similar. They look so close to each other, which I think goes along really well with what you were saying that like, how am I so sure that I am not a tear because I might think that I look like everybody else, or I might think that like, I'm close enough, but maybe different in this way.

Like what if I'm actually not. But also like another thought that I had going along with that too, is like, how are we so certain that other people are tares because if you're a baker, you know that there are many, many, many different kinds of wheat. There are at least six different types. Like you have hard and soft wheat, you have white and red wheat.

You have like durum wheat and all of these local but different. And so unless you are totally sure that what you're looking at is a tear it could possibly be wheat. Even though it might look slightly different. It might have a different color. It might have a different shape. It definitely has a different taste, but those are still wheat too.

And so I think that whole concept that you illustrated earlier about not clinging to our own certainty about us being wheat and the other people being tares really shows up well here, because it very well could be that the other person over there, like what you're talking about, is wheat, just a different variety.
And so we have to be just like you said, so careful about who we think we are and who we think other people are. And too, like, I love, I loved that quote that you shared, um, from the Exponent article about like, we try to play God in a lot of ways, especially when we weaponize the story and saying, oh, your wheat or, oh, you're tares and I'm wheat.

And I think in a lot of ways, like, we're basically saying like, okay, God, like I got this right. I'm going to do this. And without, you know, instead of trusting God, I would not trust the wheat and the tares separation, like knowing that they look so similar to literally any human, like it's actually really comforting to me to know that God's going to take care of all of it.

I don't have to stress. And it is just, like you said, literally my job to just like, love and be present with the people who are growing around me because who knows, we might all be wheat or we might all be tares.

Elise: [00:09:58] That's what I love because when the people are saying, oh my gosh, we can't let these tares grow alongside this wheat, we have to separate them. In section 86, verses six and seven, it says, “but the Lord sayeth unto them pluck, not up the tares while the blade is yet tender for verily your faith is weak, lest you destroy the wheat. Also, therefore let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully right.”

And for me, this reminds me just like you were saying that it's really difficult to tell, like the difference between wheat and tares, especially in the early stages. But this reminds me that we are called to practice love for those who are Air quotes “unlike us,” but it also reminds me that we're often more alike than we are unlike each other.

And sure, of course we have our differences that make us vibrant and unique and authentic. But I think that at our core is we are so similar. We want love, we want belonging. We want acceptance. We want space to move and experience the world. We want good food for the taste we want to hold and be held.
Right. All of those things, I think make us so, so simple. And the other thing to note here is that even when the gardener or the farmer is warned by the servants that the wheat has been tampered with, the Lord says, “let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe.” And in this way, I find this line so incredibly beautiful and radically loving because it says no, wait, there is something here for both the wheat and the tares.

Perhaps if they share the space together, if they learn to listen and to share and support one another, they will grow together. Always remembering that the growth of one has the potential to be the growth for all of them. Which is to say that their roots are tied up with one another, their struggles and their triumphs, their heartaches, and their anger, all of those things are connected.

And so uprooting the tares doesn't just hurt the tares. It also damages the wheat. The same thing if we were to up root the wheat, it would damage the terror. 

Channing: [00:12:09] I read it a little bit differently, actually. So maybe, maybe not differently, but like with a, maybe a different twist or a different flavor. See, for me, I feel like a lot of times when people use this parable by saying like, oh, separate the wheat and the tares.

And they're like, I must imagine them like rubbing their hands, like the evil villain in a school. Like I can't wait. Um, I think that part of the anxiety too prematurely separate the wheat and the tares, especially when we're talking about in the framework of people who are leaving or who have left the church, and, you know, as if those people were the tares and the people who are staying in the church or the wheat, I feel like there's a lot of the anxiety to prematurely separate them actually is kind of this worry of like, oh, well, like your tare-ness might rub off on me.

Like, you might contaminate me with your thoughts or your opinions or your different viewpoints. And so like, just, just get out of here. Like let's just separate it. And I think that that's a logical fallacy because. Ultimately like wheat, uh, wheat seed will turn into a wheat plant and a terror seed will turn into a tear plant.

Like, it would literally be impossible or it would have to be like an, a magical act of God for wheat to turn into tear halfway through its growth cycle. Like that's just, that's not how this works. And so I think that, you know, this anxiety to separate the two, because we're worried about contamination, like I also, I think it doesn't fit into our theology, ultimately because we, we hold this really strong belief that we're all children of God. 

And if we're all children of God, then we're all wheat, essentially, at least in the framework of this story. And so all these people are born inherently good. And so what if I'm, I'm not saying that I totally know for sure, but what if one way to read this story is that we're actually all wheat and no one is ever tares like ever their whole entire lives.

So how would we? And that would require a whole reframing of what tares actually are. And I have an idea for what that could be, but I actually really like this reading of this story, like what if we're actually all wheat and God used the story to say, well, “Hey, you don't actually know. Like, even if you think people are different, like I still say you get to grow together.”

Right. Um, so I don't know. That was just a potential reading for me too. But I also love that you were like, yeah, if we pull up the wheat prematurely, it, it wrecks the whole thing for the tares. And if we pull the wheat or the tares yeah. Too early, it wrecks the whole thing for the wheat. Like you are right.
Their roots are intertwined with each other. And you can't like, at least in this field, in this framework of this story, you can't separate the two until the harvest. 

Elise: [00:15:11] Well, I also really like you're reading that like everyone is wheat and it's really our own fear or lack of vulnerability that makes us really eager to cast people off because we don't want to be influenced by them.

But I, I feel like that is so unhuman. Like that's so unhuman, like, like I can, I think I agree with you that all people are born good and worthy and deserving of love, but I don't think that the same baby Elise that was born, baby Elise is the same Elise that I am now. And I know that I know that's not true because I've been around people who have influenced me and changed me and helped me grow and who I feel very, very connected to and very indebted to in a loving way.

And so, I don't know, there's part of me that wants to offer up an impossible reading that like, well, if the tares and the wheat grow up together, maybe they influence each other and maybe they start to start to share and take on characteristics of one another. And here's where I need to like pump the brakes because the story, it helps me ask these questions, but it can't hold all of the answers to these questions, because what I'm asking is like beyond the lengths of the story.

Channing: [00:16:25] Right. Well, another thought that I had about this story, like a possible re-interpretation of what tares are like, what if wheat and tares are not people. Like, what if they're not people at all? What if they are ideas or concepts or ways of being, or language or even systems or economies, like we still grow in all of these things.

Right. We grow up with a language to express ourselves. We are like, you and I grew up in capitalism. Right? We are all growing up in oh, like white supremacist culture. Like we. We're all growing in patriarchy. Like these systems are part of the soil. They're part of our landscape and we're growing right beside them.

And so what if in the end. God ultimately says, okay, the system of white supremacy, like obviously I think God is going to say this, like if this, the system of white supremacy is a tear, we're going to get rid of that one that has no place in the kingdom of heaven. So toodles, bye, you can like be bird seed.
Like what if ultimately the wheat and the tares isn't about people, but it's about our ideas and our concepts. And I feel like that kind of frees us from the whole like cycle of judgment or having to discern between who, who is good and who is bad and kind of moves us from like the individual sphere into the systemic sphere, like a really big, wide picture.

And that allows us kind of to use this story again, kind of like that quote that I've heard, and I am so sorry, I don't remember who I heard it from or who to attribute it to so if any of our followers know the quote or the idea that we “go hard on systems and soft on people.” I think using the story in that framework could actually be really, really helpful and free us from having to decide who's good and who is bad and move more into our integrity and deciding what systems are serving like the collective good. And which ones are not. So I don't know. 

Elise: [00:18:36] I love all of these and like, this is the thing, how can a small parable just keep unfolding and unfolding and unfolding? And this is when I really, really enjoy reading the scriptures. 

Channing: [00:18:48] Well, yeah. And like the, and the whole point of the parable, like the parable is not complete, right?

Like, I think that that's one of the dangers of a simple story. A lot of times people are like, oh, the story is so simple. Of course I understand it. Of course, I know exactly what this is. And that leads back to that certainty that you and I were talking about earlier. But again, it's such a simple story.

What if it also means this, what if it also means something else entirely? And so like you and I could totally get nerdy about stories all day, but like that's the whole purpose of a story is to offer many interpretations and it is a good reminder for you and I, and hopefully for all of our listeners too, that like taking a story at face value, does us a great disservice, right?

Elise: [00:19:39] Absolutely. I also think that going back to what you were talking about about systems actually transitions us really nicely into section 87. And I just want to set up a little bit of the historical background from the revelations in context book. So section 87 comes just before Christmas in 1832 when the saints in Kirkland have learned that South Carolina was resisting and nullifying taxes placed on imported goods, which they found to be unfair because it threatened their slave labor farming economy in the south.

And they wanted to declare themselves a free and independent nation. Joseph Smith then received this revelation, describing the possibility of events that could unfold. If the nation kept moving in the direction of slave labor economy, AKA a civil war on the horizon, revelations in context notes that while much of the doctrine and covenants has already addressed last days, second coming and apocalypse on the tails of a really, really vengeful God.

This section actually feels different to me because it's so grounded in history. Revelations in context says quote “other revelations located destruction in an indeterminant time and place. Destruction would happen before this great day, referring to the second coming or would occur among all nations war and rumors of war would be in your own lands, the revelation said, and in foreign lands. But doctrine and covenants, section 87, by contrast, tied destruction to specific places and events in a contemporary landscape. South Carolina and its rebellion were singled out by conflict involving more than just warring nations. It would also involve oppress groups, slaves, and remnants rising up against their masters and overseers,” end quote.

Even more than that, what was probably surprising to Joseph Smith and the saints was that this revelation didn't even like come true because in February of 1833, president Jackson compromised with South Carolina. Revelations and context writes, quote, “crisis was averted. Peace had returned to the land and president Jackson basked in what may have been his greatest triumph as president. The peaceful resolution of the crisis pleased everyone but the most ardent firebrands” end quote. So I just think that we should pause here and talk about, and talk about history being only one person's version of the story, because it's interesting that “peace had returned to the land” when still so many Black people were enslaved.

Channing: [00:22:16] Right. Like, oh, I think one of the sentences you read there was like, and everyone was happy with the arrangement. My literal first reaction was like, well, except for the enslaved people. Exactly. I'm pretty sure they were not happy. 

Elise: [00:22:29] Right. And, um, and this compromise to continue allowing and condoning slavery that being seen as a triumph because keeping the peace was more what like triumphant than freedom of all people.

So we have this story that is being shaped through a particular lens and experience from a place of privilege. And let us not forget that president Jackson, was known for his continual goal of slaughter and death of Native Americans, as he was trying to clear them out and displace them so that he could open up more land for white people to come in and make it their personal property.

Elise: [00:23:09] President Jackson was also the one that signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to grant lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Native American lands in existing border states. And, and while a few tribes went or relocated peacefully, many of them resisted the relocation policy.

And we talk a lot more about this in an earlier episode, titled Disarmament and Mistaken Missions. But this is just to say that president Jackson. Not a fantastic guy. 

Channing: [00:23:39] It should not be like lauding his efforts is like the best presidency ever. 
Elise: [00:23:45] And what about this line that you were talking about? “The peaceful resolution that pleased everyone, but the most ardent firebrands,” like you said, you know who it didn't please? It didn't please Black slaves in the south. Yeah. So again, the narrative gets shaped by those with privilege and power, and then reproduced as a true factual evidence and one singular story.

And I think this is a nice reminder for us that we stop and ask ourselves as we're reading the scriptures, as we're reading the supplemental materials, who isn't here in the story? whose voices are missing? 

Channing: [00:24:28] thoughts that I had about this chapter, it even shows up in verse one, it says “verily, thus say at the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass. Beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls.” And I think that this was my first tip-off to that question that you presented, like whose story is not being told. And as I read verse one, especially the part that says, um, the rebellion of South Carolina will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls.

The first thought that I had I had here was okay, but how many people died in slavery? How many Black people were oppressed to the point of death? How many families were a lost and broken. What traumas were inflicted at the hands of white people upon Black bodies. And so, again, that question of whose story isn't being told here, like, well, yeah, of course the war will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls, but probably many white souls and the doctrine and covenants is only paying attention to it because it's white souls because the whole time slavery was instituted.

Slavery's literal definition is the death and misery of many souls. Like I, I can't see another appropriate framework to call slavery. Right. And so I, I think that that question of whose story is being told and whose story is not being told and how are we shaping or twisting the story to occlude someone else's participation or someone else's relevant story within the story, I think is a really excellent way to read the text. And I'm also like one of the things that I'm also curious about is like our current modern day use of this story, because I can just anticipate here in a week we're going to sit down and have a gospel doctrine lesson in wards across the nation about this section.

And like in my ward, um, one of the gospel doctrine teachers is also a history teacher at the local high school. And I am just anticipating kind of the overlap there. And one of the questions that I wanted to ask about this chapter is in our gospel doctrine, lessons are in the way that this, um, section is presented in our church buildings and in our church manuals, what's the story we're telling? Are we retelling the story of white supremacy and nationalism under the guise of church history? Or are we actually taking a hard and honest look about why the doctrine and covenants feels it's necessary to talk about the secession of South Carolina, but not about slavery? Right? So, yeah, those are just some of the questions that are coming up for me as I am reading the section of the text.

Elise: [00:27:34] I really appreciate those questions. And one of the things that I have found really helpful when approaching this section is to turn to liberation theology, which is like a movement in Christian theology that was developed mainly by Latin American Roman Catholics. That emphasizes liberation from social political and economic oppression as the ultimate form of salvation and one of my favorite favorite lines from author José Severino Croatto he writes, “the God of peace is first of all the God of justice and freedom. Peace is sinful when it serves to maintain injustice and dependence.” And I'm just wondering if in some of the gospel doctrine, like lessons and conversations, if people will try and say like, we want to be peaceful.

The president was just trying to keep the peace. But here this line reminds me that peace can be a sin, especially when it serves to uphold injustice and it serves to block people from their freedom. Liberation theology also teaches me that God is always, always, always on the side of the oppressed, which means that God was and is always already on the side of Black people.

Particularly during this time of civil war. And one may ask like, well, why did there have to be a war in the first place? Why couldn't there just be peace? I hear like echoes in the back of my mind of people urging for peaceful protests, but, but I'm really reminded of the story of Moses freeing the Israelites from Egypt, where we might've asked the same questions.

Like, well, why didn't God also care for the Egyptians? Why wasn't God also peaceful in this liberation? And God acted violently because in this situation, there was no other path. God tried to be peaceful, having Moses and Aaron petition Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to be free. But look, oppression is never justifiable and injustice is never tolerable. Croatto reminds us that freedom is an intimate gift that when lost or obscured requires liberation at any point. 

Channing: [00:29:46] Did we catch that last phrase? At any price.

Elise: [00:29:52] And this, I think it's also a good reminder to me that yes, God shows up in history to liberate people. But people also are part of that liberating process.

And so we need to ask ourselves, especially with people that hold a lot of privilege, what is the price that I'm called to pay in order to work towards freedom for all? 

Channing: [00:30:13] That is such a good question. What price am I willing to pay for the liberation and freedom of all? And I think that that's really at the crux of what this section at least has been bringing out for both of us.

And so I want to invite or encourage our listeners to dig deeper, dig deeper than what this section offers you at face value. Dig deeper than what the revelations in context offers you at face value. Maybe check out Joanna Brooks “White Supremacy and the Mormon Church,” maybe look at some other resources, listen to what Black people's perspective is on this section.

Listen to what their experience has been having a family history of enslavement, listen to Black people and listen to what they're calling for right now, because that is the key to knowing the answer to that question. Not only what am I willing to sacrifice for liberation and freedom, but what is required of me to sacrifice for liberation and freedom? And Black people thankfully have the answer. And it's really important that we center their voices here, especially in conversations about the history of enslavement. 

Elise: [00:31:29] Friends. Thank you so much. We love doing the podcast and we love having you here every single week.

Thanks for joining us in this conversation about the wheat and the tares and letting us unfold some ideas that are even beyond the scope of the story. And also for diving into section 87 with us thinking about whose story is being told and whose story is left out.

Channing: [00:31:56] We love you so much. And we're so excited to have been able to spend this time with you this week. We missed you last week. We missed you, even though we were having a great time together. We were always constantly thinking of our listeners. Planning up some really cool things that are going to be announced in the future in the next coming weeks.

And we're just so absolutely thrilled to be with you and have such an incredible community. We're so grateful to be able to share this with you. Friends if you've enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of the episodes at all, we really ask that you share a review on iTunes and let us know how much you love the podcast or where you think we could improve.

We love you so much and we can't wait to talk to you next week.

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