May 15, 2008

Implicit Confidence in God: Part 1

On faith, works and healing* Brigham Young August 17, 1856 After explaining why he spent more time preaching improvement rather than praise, Brigham said his next comments would "allude" specifically to people "who profess to believe in a Supreme Being," as to whether or not they had "implicit confidence in God." He tied the question into the ideas of both faith and works:

How slow many of us are to believe the things of God, O how slow. How many men and women can I find here who place implicit confidence in their God? Perhaps you might wish an explanation with regard to the term I here make use of. I will acknowledge my inability to explain to the fullest extent what I regard as implicit confidence in our God; the reason of this is the ten thousand opinions that people have. If I were to urge that we ought to have implicit confidence in the power and willingness of our God to sustain us by doing everything for us, that would cut the thread of my own faith, it would run counter to many of my ideas in regard to the dealings of the Almighty with the human family. On the other hand, how much confidence shall I have in God? One says: “I have no confidence in Him any further than what I can see, hear, and understand. I have no confidence that wheat will grow here, unless I put it into the ground; or that I will have food to eat, unless I take the proper steps for raising it, or purchase it from those that have it.” Both of these points are true in part, but the minds of the people are more or less beclouded. To explain how much confidence we should have in God, were I using a term to suit myself, I should say implicit confidence. I have faith in my God, and that faith corresponds with the works I produce. I have no confidence in faith without works. Shall I explain this?
While recognizing the inadequacy of a simple example,[1] Brigham related a concrete experience involving an "over-righteous" priesthood holder in Nauvoo:
A President of the Elders' Quorum, old father Baker[2], was called upon to visit a very sick woman, a sister in the Church; they sent for him to lay hands upon her. It was a very sickly time, and there was scarcely a person to attend upon the sick, for nearly all were afflicted. Father Baker was one of those tenacious, ignorant, self-willed, over-righteous Elders, and when he went into the house he inquired what the woman wanted. She told him that she wished him to lay hands upon her. Father Baker saw a teapot on the coals and supposed that there was tea in it and immediately turned upon his heels, saying, “God don't want me to lay hands on those who do not keep the Word of Wisdom,” and he went out. He did not know whether the pot contained catnip, pennyroyal, or some other mild herb and he did not wait for anyone to tell him. That class of people are ignorant and over-righteous, and they are not in the true line by any means.
Evidently Brigham believed the pot should have contained catnip, pennyroyal, or some other type of herbal remedy[3] because he believed Saints ought to make an effort to become well if they had the means. He did not advocate seeking a miraculous healing in lieu of (or perhaps apart from) available medicine. This brought to mind a recent article regarding a family in Wisconsin:
Police are investigating an 11-year-old girl's death from an undiagnosed, treatable form of diabetes after her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor. An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.[4]
Compare this with Brigham's sermon:
You may go to some people here and ask what ails them and they answer “I don't know, but we feel a dreadful distress in the stomach and in the back; we feel all out of order, and we wish you to lay hands upon us.” “Have you used any remedies?” “No. We wish the Elders to lay hands upon us, and we have faith that we shall be healed.” That is very inconsistent according to my faith. If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel of salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and to ask my Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, to sanctify that application to the healing of my body; to another this may appear inconsistent. If a person afflicted with a cancer should come to me and ask me to heal him, I would rather go the graveyard and try to raise a dead person, comparatively speaking.
Brigham added a caveat here which still emphasized the importance, or reality of prayer and miracles:
But supposing we were traveling in the mountains and all we had or could get, in the shape of nourishment was a little venison, and one or two were taken sick, without anything in the world in the shape of healing medicine within our reach, what should we do? According to my faith, ask the Lord Almighty to send an angel to heal the sick. This is our privilege, when so situated that we cannot get anything to help ourselves. Then the Lord and his servants can do all. But it is my duty to do, when I have it in my power. Many people are unwilling to do one thing for themselves, in case of sickness, but ask God to do it all (JD 4:24-25).
In faith and works Brigham urged consistency, which is the subject of Part 2. *I've been troubled by this particular sermon for weeks because it is both expansive and remarkable; difficult to break into pieces to analyze without corrupting the whole or leaving something important out. (I have been attempting to make my posts smaller, as I feel the average blogger looks for a quick read.) I was half-tempted to just post the whole sermon and leave it be (you can read it here) but there is too much in it for me to not make some comments. So I'll make an effort to cover the rest of it over the next few posts in a series called "Implicit Confidence in God." Footnotes: [1] I do not think I can fully present the idea to your understanding, but I will a portion of it; and to do so, I will refer to a circumstance that transpired in Nauvoo (Brigham Young, JD 4:24). [2] Brigham may be referring to Jesse Baker, who served in the elders quorum presidency at Nauvoo (see D&C 124:137). Baker was born January 23, 1778 in Charlestown, Washington County, Rhode Island. "In search of adventure and fortune" Baker moved to Hoosick, New York. Working as a shoemaker and Thomsonian doctor (focusing on healing by use of herbs) he later moved to Ohio in 1835 at the age of fifty seven. Two years later Baker joined the Church and was ordained an elder. He was a charter member of and owned stock in the Kirtland Safety Society, a member of the Kirtland Camp who left Ohio in 1838, and was expelled from Missouri with the Saints in 1838-39. Baker was appointed by revelation January 19, 1841 to be counselor to John A. Hicks in elders quorum in Nauvoo. He received his endowment on December 15, 1845 and died November 1, 1846, at Mills County, Iowa. Perhaps Baker's previous experience as using herbs in healing led him to hold a strict view on the Word of Wisdom. See "Baker, Jesse," Biographical Index, BYU Studies, accessed 5-6-2008; Susan Easton Black, "Jesse Baker," Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants. [3] Catnip and pennyroyal are herbal remedies. For more on herbal remedies and Mormonism see N. Lee Smith, "Herbal Remedies: God's Medicine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12:3 (Autumn 1979): 40. "Medicine and the Mormons: a Historical Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12:3 (Autumn 1979): 18–20. [4] Associated Press, "Girl's death probed after parents rely on prayer", accessed 5-6-2008.

May 13, 2008

May 13, 1857: The Murder of Parley P. Pratt

151 years ago Parley P. Pratt (12 April 1807 – 13 May 1857) was murdered by the estranged husband of his plural wife Eleanor McLean in a small Arkansas town named Van Buren.[1] Eleanor McComb (b. 9 Dec. 1817) married Hector McLean in 1841. Soon Hector began drinking heavily, helping to lead to a separation in 1844. Hector promised to reform, and said he desired to seek a religious community to help him overcome his intemperance, and Eleanor moved back in. The couple and their three children moved from New Orleans to San Fransisco looking for a fresh start.

After attending a Mormon meeting with her husband sometime late in 1851, Eleanor expressed her desire to join the Church, but was forbidden by her husband, who threatened death should she unite with the Mormons. Eleanor continued to attend Mormon meetings, however, and purchased a Mormon hymnal. When Hector discovered her singing from the hymnal he threw it into the fire, beat her, and cast her out of the home, locking the door. Eleanor filed an assault and battery charge, and planned to move to the large Mormon settlement in San Bernadino. The local Branch is said to have persuaded her to stay, and she dropped the charges and returned to Hector, she said, "for the sake of the children."[2]

On May 24, 1854, Eleanor was baptized after Hector finally gave written permission, though he forbade her from singing or reading any Mormon literature in the home. Parley P. Pratt was assigned preside over the Pacific mission and arrived in San Fransisco July 2, 1854. With little to eat and low funds, the San Fransisco Branch, including Eleanor, cared for Pratt and his wife Elizabeth, who was ill. Parley attempted to reconcile Hector to the Church, but failed. Hector then planned to have his wife committed to an asylum and filed a charge of insanity against her. Parley assigned a young missionary named John Young to help Eleanor.

Young was hired by Hector to do house chores, his identity as a Mormon being concealed. Young helped persuade the directors of the insane asylum against committing Eleanor. When Hector discovered Young was a Mormon he was furious and sent Young away. Hector locked Eleanor in her room and sent the children to their maternal grandparents home in New Orleans. Soon, Eleanor was able to secure passage to follow her children, and felt her marriage to Hector was over, though it was never legally dissolved.[3]

She stayed with her parents and children in New Orleans for three months, but was unable to convince her father to allow her to take the children so she traveled with a company of emigrating Mormons to Salt Lake City, arriving on September 11, 1855. Parley had arrived in Salt Lake City from his mission in California on August 18, 1855. He began working at the Endowment House and toured the Territory speaking at various church meetings. He hired Eleanor as school teacher for his children. Eleanor was sealed to Parley on November 14, 1855. It is unclear whether this marriage was viewed as Platonic, meant to ensure Eleanor a worthy eternal companion, or was viewed as other plural marriages wherein Parley resided with many of his 11 other wives. [See the comments below regarding my impressions on the marriage.]

In August of 1856 Parley was called to missionary work in the Eastern States mission and Eleanor asked if she could accompany him to attempt to get her children from her parents home in New Orleans. She told her father she had renounced Mormonism and he allowed her to take the children. On her return trip, however, she wrote her father informing him that she had lied, that she was now "Mrs. Pratt," and that she was taking the children to Utah. Her father alerted Hector, who was soon in pursuit along with a posse of friends who caught up with Eleanor in Arkansas. Upon learning about Eleanor's illegal marriage Hector had filed questionable charges against Parley regarding the theft of clothing and sent an armed military escort to capture him. Parley evaded them for a time, but in attempting to find Eleanor he was apprehended in Cherokee Nation territory. Upon learning this, Hector set off after Pratt with sword and pistol, Eleanor following in company with the posse.

Parley was taken to jail and bound over on the spurious charges. Hector planned to have Parley arrested again on different charges. On May 11 Eleanor was brought before a judge and questioned. She testified of her marital difficulties and was released by the judge. Parley was tried on May 12. Hector listed his grievances, but when Parley stood to respond Hector pointed his pistol at him, exciting the trial spectators. The judge postponed the trial until 4pm in order to restore calm. The trial was again postponed until the next morning, May13, at 8 am. According to Eleanor's account, however, postponing the trial was merely intended to stall for time while the judge attempted to convince Hector to drop the matter.As far as the judge was concerned, Parley was innocent and he planned to release him.

Early in the morning the judge delivered Parley's horse to the jail and offered him his pistol. Parley refused and rode away. When Hector discovered the escape he sped off after Parley, following his tracks in the mud left by a light rain. As he approached Parley he fired six shots, hitting his coat and collarbone, but leaving Parley otherwise unscathed. He then rode astride Parley and stabbed him twice in the chest. Hector then rode away, only to return several minutes later to shoot Parley in the neck. A Mr. Winn, who witnessed the murder which had occurred near his farm 12 miles outside of Van Buren rode for help, believing Parley was dead. When he returned with his neighbors an hour later he found that Parley was still alive and requesting a drink of water. Parley asked if Winn would make sure his belongings be sent to his family and requested his body be taken to Salt Lake City.

Finally, Parley related his dying testimony to the men:

I die a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I wish you to carry this my dying testimony. I know that the Gospel is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, I am dying a martyr to the faith.[4]
Parley bled to death from one of the two knife wounds; it had struck his heart. Hector bragged of his deed over some alcohol before escaping across the Arkansas River. When asked if the Mormons would seek to avenge the death of Parley, Eleanor assured them that justice was in the hands of God. Eleanor and a missionary named George Higginson traveled to the Winn farm and helped prepare Parley's body for burial. Higginson buried Parley on May 14, 1857 in Sterman's Graveyard (now called Fine Springs.)

Steven Pratt, a descendant of Parley, explained why circumstances prevented transporting Pratt's body to Utah:
First, the difficulty of transporting a body over the miles of wagon trail led the Saints to bury their dead where they died and move on, which is what they invariably did. Second, the news that Johnston's Army had been sent to Utah precluded taking anything on the trains that did not absolutely have to be taken. Third, during the events of the Utah War there was no real opportunity to recover the body. Fourth, after the Mountain Meadow's Massacre, the people of Van Buren, Arkansas refused to allow Mormons into their region until this century.[5]
Subsequent attempts were made[6] until April 2008 when a new archaeological dig was conducted to exhume Parley's remains and transport them to Utah. The remains, however, were not found.[7]  


[1] This much-abbreviated account is based on Steven Pratt, "Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt." BYU Studies 15:2, pp. 225-56. For an interesting contemporary newspaper account sympathetic to Hector McLean, see "Tragical," an published May 25, 1857 in the Daily Missouri Republican. The account assures readers of being a "plain narrative of the facts as we received them from the most reliable sources," some inaccuracies are evident, such as listing Parley as having died from a gunshot wound rather than blood loss because of a stabbing.  

[2] ibid. 227; Millennial Star 19:432  

[3] Pratt, p. 233 footnote 26 reads:
There is no doubt that Eleanor was not divorced from Hector at the time she was sealed to Parley on 14 November 1855. On 1 June 1857 when Hector filed a charge of insanity against his wife in New Orleans, he stated that he wanted her "placed under charge of your petitioner [Hector] as her curator." All through the petition Eleanor was named as his wife. To further substantiate the above, when Eleanor was asked by a reporter of the New York World in 1869 whether she had divorced Hector prior to marrying Parley, she answered: "No, the sectarian priests have no power from God to marry; and as a so-called marriage ceremony performed by them is no marriage at all, no divorce was needed. The priesthood with its powers and privileges, can be found no where upon the face of the earth but in Utah. . . . I regard the laws of Celestial Marriage, or, as the "Gentiles" term it, polygamy, as the keystone of our religion. That is wherein we differ from the sects of the world. They hope for salvation in a heaven where husbands and wives shall be utter strangers to each other; we expect to reach a heaven where we shall rear families, the same as we do here. We could not do this unless we had a revelation authorizing Celestial Marriage; and we could not be saved in the Celestial Kingdom without obeying this revelation. It is the great distinctive feature of our religion, and by it our religion stands or falls" (New York World, 23 November 1869, p.2). Eleanor's explanation of why she joined in a polygamous marriage without going through the formalities of a sectarian divorce from Hector helps the modern reader better understand both the teaching about the authority of the priesthood, and the tenor of the time. For further discussions on the subject, see the following: Wilford Woodruff Journal, 15 August 1847, Church Archives; Orson Pratt, Speech on Marriage, Journal of Discourses, 16:175; Parley P. Pratt, Marriage and Morals in Utah (Liverpool: Orson Pratt, 1856); and Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), chapter 17.
Pratt, 248.  

ibid. 247.  

In 1902 Samuel Russell, Parley's grandson, corresponded with John Neal, former mayor of Van Buren, and was informed that a Walter Fine knew the location of Parley's grave. Russell wrote to the First Presidency asking what he should do. They recommended that he contact President J. G. Duffin of the Southwestern States Mission and request him to send some Elders to locate the grave "with the view of bringing his remains to this city [Salt Lake] for interment" (Letter from J. F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund to Samuel Russell, 19 May 1902, Church Archives). J. G. Duffin visited Van Buren on 3 September 1902 and contacted John Neal, former mayor, John Orme, Justice of the Peace at the time of Parley's murder, and John Steward, the man who drove the wagon that transported Parley's body to the gravesite. Brother Duffin did not visit the grave, but got a promise from John Steward and John Neal that they would assist in the removal of the body if the exact location of the burial place could be determined. They informed Duffin that the Fine brothers could point out the exact location. He was not able to visit them. (James G. Duffin to Anthon H. Lund, 19 December 1902, and Journal History of the Church, 13 May 1857) Further investigation was done in 1912 by Samuel Russell. He visited Van Buren and talked with Thomas Fine, who pointed out what he thought was the location of the grave. After Elder Russell had returned to Salt Lake, he sent a letter to his friend, Calvin Little, of Alma, Arkansas, on 17 November 1912, and asked him to investigate further. Little sent Russell a memorandum giving the location of the graveyard and the approximate location of the grave, which was in the northeast part of the graveyard near a large oak stump--he could not determine the exact location. (Samuel Russell Papers, Church Archives. The Little Memorandum is a letter from A.B. Howell to Calvin Little, dated 11 August 1912. Little must have gotten the memorandum after Russell left, and sent it to him later in the November letter.)
Subsequent efforts in 1937 and 1949 are described in Pratt, "Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt." BYU Studies 15:2, p. 247, footnote 63. A monument to Pratt was erected in 1951.  

See Robert J. Adams, "Dig at Mormon burial unrewarded," Arkansas Democrat Gazette, April 23, 2008. Interestingly, the article reports the account of a Van Buren resident named Cornelious “Junior” Peters, who "said his great-great-great-grandfather William Stewart gave away the walnut coffin he’d made for himself so Pratt could be buried in it. He wanted to see the coffin and Pratt’s remains." Pratt, however, reports that Parley was buried in a white pine box (see Pratt, 249.) See also Associated Press, "No remains found in dig for Parley P. Pratt," April 24, 2008.