Rational Faiths, Episode 20: Wilford Woodruff's Witness
Geoff Nelson and Jennifer Ann Mackley
Host Geoff Nelson talks with Jennifer Mackley, author of Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine, and now our project's Executive Director, about how she became the leading expert and historian on Wilford Woodruff's life and record. She explains why Wilford's undiluted perspective is so important to Church history, particularly as it relates to the development of temple doctrine and the process of continuing revelation.
Speakers: Jennifer Mackley and Geoff Nelson
Nelson: Welcome to Rational Faiths Podcast. This is Geoff Nelson and today I have the pleasure to interview Jennifer Mackley. She is the author of a new book out called Wilford Woodruff 's Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine. Jennifer is an attorney in Seattle. She's married. She's active and has been an amateur historian, or would you say a fan of reading up on Wilford Woodruff and his journals.
Mackley: My interest was purely historical and developed over the years.
Nelson: I first met Jennifer through a group of Wilford Woodruff descendants and her research has been fantastic with regards to Wilford Woodruff.
Mackley: It's been an amazing journey because Wilford Woodruff's descendants are an incredible group of people. But I didn't contact them initially in my research because I kind of felt like a groupie, and yet one of his great-grandsons attended my presentation in St. George three years ago and then contacted me and asked if there was anything that they could do to help with pictures or historical documents to assist in my research. Then two of his great-grandsons ended up reading the manuscripts and the family genealogists worked with me to develop the ultimate record of his wives and children (that is an appendix in my book). They have been a great help. I ended up presenting at the family meeting two years ago.
Nelson: Yes, I remember it. You sent me some of the slides. They were fantastic. I should also ask at this point, one of the things that really jumped out while reading the book is just how many fantastic photographs there are throughout the book. You don't go more than a couple of pages without a photograph. Was it the Wilford Woodruff family society or Association that was able to fill-in with all those photos?
Mackley: I actually have the largest collection of photos of Wilford Woodruff, and it was interesting to me that the family doesn't have all of them because when Wilford Woodruff died, his entire collection, all his papers and journals went to his wife Emma Smith, and then to her sons So any pictures that anyone had in the family were those that had been given to their parents or grandparents during their lifetime. The images are now housed at BYU or the Church History Library. The Utah State Historical Society has quite a collection too. I was able to put them in chronological order and get copies from the many different institutions. Daughters of the Utah Pioneers is another great resource. It is a compilation of those. I ended up not including all the ones that I found because with all the research I did, I have a second book coming which is about Wilford Woodruff’s wives and more of the personal side of their lives. So, many of those images will be in the next volume. So much was preserved of his life and I credit that to him because of his calling he felt to record this amazing journey through church history, not only for him but for posterity and for the Church itself.
Nelson: I want to give the listeners a brief description of the book as a whole. It is an interesting narrative and we have talked a little bit about this in the past. You have this mixture of sort of a biography of Wilford Woodruff and his life chronologically, while at the same time it's a book that also is essentially detailing out the development and the unfolding of temple practices and doctrines and then also through the narrative and exploration you get to also see the changes the church itself is going through. So it's this interesting almost braiding of Wilford Woodruff’s life with temple development, and in putting them all together in that way it, for me at least, was paradigm-shifting in that I saw the influences that each of them had on each other throughout the development. How much of it was a wrestle for you to try to figure out how to start this balance of telling the story of Wilford Woodruff’s life along with telling the development of temple doctrine? I thought you did a great job with the balance but how was that trying to test strike that balance?
Mackley: Well when the first time it was reviewed, that was what the publisher said. I had chosen the most difficult way to present this, but I didn't know any better. I guess that's the best response. But for me the story of the Restoration and temple doctrine was part of that. It was like reading War and Peace, and I had to keep taking notes as I read his journals and the journals of his contemporaries and their letters, and just Church history in general. So as I did that I began, what is also an appendix in the book, an outline or a timeline of church history and Wilford Woodruff’s life.
I couldn't find a better way to tell it, because if I had just presented it as an historical narrative it would have become an encyclopedia. There was no way to cover every source or every perspective, and the one that was the thread that went from the beginning to the end was Wilford Woodruff. He not only lived these things but he recorded them, and that was the difference. The day-to-day unfolding was fascinating compared to those who wrote maybe a three or four-page autobiography at the end of their lives and said, “I was here at this critical moment” or “I experienced this amazing experience in the temple” or “I was with a family member or with the Prophet.” He wrote it every day, and for me that was the critical element and the only way that I knew how to explain what happened.
Nelson: Yes, and that appendix that you mentioned—I also appreciated that you included other things so you knew who was president or who had just been elected or other events to kind of let you know further how to tie in when these things were happening and what the environment was like. I really appreciated that being in there.
Mackley: One of the reasons for that was I initially started my research because of Wilford Woodruff’s vision of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and particularly the women that were part of the eminent men and women he chose to direct the temple work to be done for. So in trying to understand if they were his contemporaries or if they lived before he did, I learned that of the Founding Fathers, George Washington was the only one that was not a president during his lifetime. It became so much more personal, these were not historical figures for him, these were men who he had grown up knowing, if not meeting them. They were the presidents of the country. There were things like that that I had to get straight in my own mind before I could try to share the story with anyone else.
Nelson: Yes, I appreciate that a lot. Another thing that came to mind was how great it was that Wilford Woodruff constantly recorded these things as they were unfolding. When I initially started reading the book, I guess I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, what degree it was going to. At first it struck me as being very, I guess apologetic in nature. But, as you note in the preface or the introduction, you had set out to try to just tell things in Wilford Woodruff’s own words, and that you were setting out to describe things in Wilford Woodruff’s life and the unfolding of his temple doctrines through his sight and through the way that he experienced it. When keeping that in mind, I am looking through the lens which this book was being written, it definitely helped me to better grasp some of the decisions that you made and how to present things and what to include. How difficult was it to try to only include Wilford Woodruff's view on these things and yet at the same time be able to cut pieces together of the narrative to make it flow well?
Mackley: It is a question that I have been asked. Reviewers have suggested I didn't say enough about Adam-God teachings at the veil, or I didn't explain or connect more between the endowment to Masonry, or I didn't cover some of the political interaction between the Church and the federal government. There are so many things in 7,000 pages of his journals and 11,000 letters and 3,500 discourses—all he experienced between 1833 to 1898. Thomas Alexander’s book covers the historical side of Wilford Woodruff’s life, and Cowley’s book includes the religious side, but this is Wilford Woodruff’s personal perspective. If he didn't write about it I couldn't pretend to know what he thought or put in what other people were thinking at the time. So there are some things that I discovered digging deeper that hadn't been published before (for example, his History on Masonry). But those were things that he didn't connect to the temple and so for me to include those as part of the temple documents from Wilford Woodruff’s point of view would not have been an accurate portrayal of how he saw this development.
Nelson: Yes, and I think I’ve sort of reminded myself of that. From the very beginning you set out with that approach you were taking. With that in mind I was perhaps a little less confused why you didn't discuss Masonry more. It seems like that would be worth the effort of some amount of discussion. But as you point out, Wilford Woodruff himself doesn't really say all that much about it. Could you let us know maybe just a little bit what it is that he did have to say when he wrote down his side history of Masonry?
Mackley: What a fascinating thing for me was, I mean he only mentions Masonry 13 times in his journal, and it is just a mention that that's what they were attending or there was a parade going on. So it was something that he was aware of or participating in, but for him it wasn't a conflict of religious versus personal or that one excluded the other or one was part of the other. It just existed and it was something he didn’t comment on at all. The History of Masonry was a document that was in his personal papers, but it was simply the transcription of a book that had been printed about 10 years before he joined the Church and it was, again, just a description of what Masons practiced at the time and he makes no connections. It’s not a complete transcription. It is about 13 pages that he wrote down and there's no parallels that he draws and no references to ordinances. So those are the kind of things that were critical in my analysis and that's why they're included in the footnotes. If there's information on those things then I include a paragraph or two in the footnotes because it is something that people are interested in and want to know more about. That's why there are over 1000 footnotes in the book because there is so much more to learn and so many things that have been written, not something that Wilford Woodruff himself wrote about, but certainly worth studying.
Nelson: Yes, and I should also mention, follow along the footnotes when you read the book because they are very well done. As you said, when you would come to topics that Wilford Woodruff himself didn't have much to say about, oftentimes you have included some fantastic commentary within the footnotes and also you know your sites and there really are an incredible amount of fantastic resources within them. How long did it take you in terms of gathering these bits of information that ultimately kind of made their way into the book?
Mackley: Fifteen very long years. I began before my children were born. I have 15-year-old twins and, again, it was just a personal interest. I said so often to my husband, “Did you know that Wilford was there when . . . ?” Or “Did you know that Brigham Young said this?” Or “Did you know what Joseph Smith taught . . . ?” And he started saying to me, “You should write those things down.” I initially thought it was because he was tired of hearing them, but it was because it was fascinating. We both consider ourselves “well read” in Church history, in the sense that it's an interesting topic. Whether it's Wilford Woodruff or Heber C. Kimball or William Clayton or Brigham Young, any of those early Church leaders, there have been so many books written and so many articles written. Yet what surprised us was no one has ever written about the development of temple doctrine from 1823 all the way through. There are articles addressing the endowment or prayer circles or the Kirtland era or the Nauvoo era. But to put it all together was something I couldn't find anywhere. So that's what led me to actually start writing. I initially just wrote articles, and when I began to present my research that was the response I got. People would say, “I never knew this in context. I didn't understand until I heard you put it into context.”
Nelson: Yet, you know, it was actually this that I really liked about it. It was sort of looking at the flow, and as you mentioned, just sort of the development overall. Especially if you see it kind of in this particular timeline and you see what's happening in Wilford's own life and what's happening in the Church as these developments take place. Maybe it is a good time to go over some of the highlights of that development itself.
I guess as far as the early era temple doctrines, you note in the book that Wilford Woodruff is away during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and he is assured by Joseph that he will receive these blessings. And as we move along to Nauvoo, I think one of the things that people will be particularly interested in is in the way you cover a lot of adoption with a good amount of detail and context. I am merging several questions together here. Perhaps at first if you could share some of your thoughts about how interconnected the purpose of all of the various temple doctrines and temple rituals are, especially when looking at adoptions, sealings, and baptisms for the dead. Can you just share some of your thoughts on the way that those are all very interconnected purposes and then maybe after that we can start discussing a little bit more of some of the details of the timeline of the live adoption itself?
Mackley: For me through the law of adoption, something that I had understood in the baptismal sense, meaning we are adopted into the kingdom of God, and when I began reading his journals that was a concept that the Saints understood in Kirtland. So when baptism for the dead was introduced it made perfect sense to them that this was the fulfillment of the mission of Elijah. This was how to bring families together. If those who had not been introduced to the Church while they were living could still accept it after death, and through baptism be adopted into the kingdom of God, into the family of God, the hearts of the children and the fathers would be connected in that way. Joseph Smith taught that exact concept in Doctrine and Covenants 128: vicarious baptism was the fulfillment of the mission of Elijah. The reason that the timeline of events from Kirtland to Nauvoo was so important in the development of the concept of adoption and the sealing of families was Joseph Smith hadn't been taught about sealings yet. He hadn't received information on the endowment or any other temple ordinances, and actually announced in Kirtland that they had received all the ordinances that they needed to organize the kingdom of God. So it's those kinds of announcements and progressive understanding of what was happening that to me was not a problem, but something that highlighted the faith that these people had. The revelations that Joseph pronounced were truly earth-shaking revelations, doctrinal changes that rocked the Protestant world and the men and women who had joined the Church. These were mind-boggling. So when the concept of sealing was introduced, what Joseph Smith had said previously, no longer applied. To Wilford Woodruff it wasn't: “You got it wrong and now you need to fix it.” It was “Now we understand what this means and how it fits together.” But as I read Wilford Woodruff’s analysis of the revelations, of the developments, it was like they were being given one puzzle piece at a time and they didn't have a box in front of them with the picture on it of how these pieces are supposed to work together. They had to figure it out as they went. It wasn't, from Wilford Woodruff’s point of view, and as I understand, it wasn't that they felt God wasn't telling them what they needed to know. He was helping them take one little piece at a time. There was no way for Him to just lay the puzzle out and say “This is what it's going to look like in 100 years.” It had to be one piece at a time. So the law of adoption as it applied to sealings wasn't introduced until 1844, when Joseph Smith himself finally understood. And it was in March, three months before his death, that he said, “To truly fulfill the mission of Elijah we need to connect families and that means seal yourselves to your fathers on earth and then to your fathers in heaven or in the spirit world.” So it took 21 years for Joseph Smith to go from the introduction of the mission of Elijah in 1823, to the understanding of what that meant and how that fit in with this temple doctrine and family organization.
Nelson: Okay, so one thing I am asking is, let me know if this understanding is off, but the way it struck me upon reading all this was, as further ordinances were revealed it was less something that was this brand new amazing thing and more that it was an additional ordinance that was more of a refining or a greater definition of the very thing that baptisms for the dead set out to do. Again, a sort of adoption into the family of God. And as washing, anointings, endowments, sealings came out, it was just a more refined approach to bringing together and sort of adopting into the family of God. Then you add to sealings the law of adoption, it’s just sort of additional steps. I come to this from my background in physics and medical imaging. When you have a picture loading online you won’t see the whole thing at once and it's not very clear. But as this image loads you're just getting more refining features to the image that are coming on the picture. I guess that's a somewhat decent analogy of the way that it seemed to me upon reading your book. It was as each of these additional ordinances in large part were simply adding definition to the general purpose that had already been laid out. Like Joseph said, you know with the baptisms for the dead, this is what we need to fulfill the prophecy of Elijah. To what degree is that accurate or is that just my take on what was there and perhaps not quite what Wilford had in mind?
Mackley: I think looking back we see the finished puzzle, so to speak, and it's easy to try to make it look like it was a step-by-step process on a defined staircase. For them it was more of a zigzag I think, because initially the Saints understood the concept of sealing the same way that the Bible talks about it. It was more of an earthly validation of an ordinance so that it would be recognized in heaven, and that God would recognize that ordinance is valid in this life and in the life to come. The Kirtland Temple involved just washings and anointings. Of course there were priesthood blessings and they had patriarchal blessings at that time, but the concept of sealing an ordinance versus sealing one individual to another was something that had not even been considered. The sealing ordinances that we get in Nauvoo paralleled each other initially, then the sealing of a marriage covenant developed into the actual sealing of one individual to another individual. The other parallel ordinance was the law of adoption in the sense of connecting the priesthood. Individuals were sealed to each other and, in addition to that, Joseph had talked about the need to connect to the priesthood through the prophets back at Adam. That was not an ordinance that he performed in his lifetime. In fact, he didn't even perform an ordinance to seal children to their parents. Neither of those ordinances occurred until the Nauvoo Temple was completed in 1845. That's where the law of adoption comes in, when men and women were sealed into or adopted into the priesthood lineage of another man. The law of adoption was to accomplish what sealing couldn't do for those individuals who joined the Church “singly,” in other words, if their parents didn't approve of their membership in the Church or their husbands did not approve of membership in the Church, there was no one for them to be sealed to. The law of adoption solved that because they could be connected to the priesthood and be a part of that priesthood chain linked back to Adam. So men and women were sealed as couples and then the idea would be to be sealed to Joseph Smith as the head of this dispensation and, by virtue of his receiving the priesthood from Peter, James, and John, that would connect them across the gap of the apostasy back to the priesthood of Christ’s Church and the early Saints and back to Adam. So it accomplished all of those very significant steps, which is why Wilford Woodruff’s change (ending adoption) in 1894 made such a difference in what we consider the modern temple ordinances.
Nelson: There are definitely some things I think we should clarify because I imagine some of the statements you made probably have some people think, wait a minute, what was that exactly. One thing came to mind specifically was the unfolding of the sealing ordinances. You mentioned that at first there was just a generic sealing of a couple prior to there being a specific sealing of one person to another person. Could you explain that a little bit more, at least what you understood from your studying the history accounts in Wilford Woodruff’s records?
Mackley: Wilford Woodruff was the first one who actually wrote down, whether or not he was the first one to understand it, the idea of sealing individuals to each other. Because, just as they had sealed the priesthood ordinances of washing and anointing in the Kirtland Temple, the sealing of the marriage covenant, or in other words taking what only man could do through time or mortality and sealing it by the authority of the priesthood so that those marriages would be effective beyond mortality. So the sealing was understood as just the sealing of that marriage. What changed was the understanding that what they were doing was sealing individuals to one another, such as husbands to wives and children to parents. That was a significant difference. So when Doctrine and Covenants 132 was written down, those concepts are in there, that if a man marries a wife by any other authority they are simply married “until death do you part.” That sealing of individuals through the priesthood, through God’s authority, had to occur. That finally began to be the language that was used: that you were sealing first husbands to wives or wives to husbands, and then it was children to parents. But that was a one-way, one-generation concept: children to parents. It wasn't until 50 years later that the idea that you could seal those children to parents and those parents to grandparents and to great grandparents became possible.
Nelson: All right. I think I would imagine that for several people some of these ideas are going to be new for them. I would encourage them to check out the book. It's great the way everything lays out and you see this development take place There were some interesting comments from Brigham and others about the law of adoption itself that I thought were very interesting. I was wondering what exactly you're understanding or take on some of this as well. What stood out to me particularly in the book, and I believe it was a comment from Brigham, but I could be wrong, was a statement along the lines of the law of adoption being like the highest and holiest of ordinances that we have here on the earth. I don't know if you recall exactly which statement that was, or if I'm correct in assuming that it was Brigham Young who had made that comment. But with the law of adoption being so little understood today I'd be curious to hear what your thoughts are on that statement, in particular, and maybe how adoption was viewed by the Saints as time marched on within the church.
Mackley: Yes it was a statement by Brigham Young and what he was trying to explain was why, after the Saints had to abandon the Nauvoo Temple, why couples were allowed to be sealed outside of the temple, but other ordinances were suspended. As they crossed the plains and when they got to the Salt Lake Valley they continued to do sealings of couples, but the sealings of children to parents and the adoptions into priesthood lineage were suspended. They were suspended for over 30 years because he said those were “higher ordinances” and those could only be done in the temple. Part of it was practical, in a sense, because people needed to be married, and so the sealings of couples continued. But the other part was the understanding that the connections that were being made were formal, marriage sealings and sealings by adoption in the temple. The application of the law of adoption continued as they crossed the plains, but it was more of a pledge that when a temple was built the adoption would be formalized. They made lists of those who wanted to be adopted into a certain man's priesthood lineage, but those ordinances were not completed or ministered in the temple until one was finally built in 1877, which was the St. George Temple. So that was part of his statement "the highest and holiest ordinances.” The other reason was because second anointings were also introduced in Nauvoo, and that highest and holiest ordinance was another description that was used for second anointings as well. The things that had been introduced by Joseph Smith, whether it was just as a concept like adoptions) or as an actual ordinance like the second anointings, those were things that Brigham Young had to then implement and administer based on what Joseph had said instead of what he had done.
Nelson: All right, you mentioned that they had to wait on performing any of those until they got into the St. George Temple and Wilford Woodruff, of course, is then acting as temple president in this first functioning temple that we have after Nauvoo. Another one of the chapters that I particularly liked and found insightful was when you were discussing the beginning of Wilford Woodruff's time there as temple president and the three significant changes that came about through Wilford Woodruff on some of the practices. Maybe you could give us a little summary of one of those. One that particularly stood out to me was Wilford Woodruff praying to find out how on earth his family would be capable of doing the proxy work for his ancestors and then receiving this answer that it's okay for other people to do the work for your ancestors. This was considered a revelation by him and there was a lot of celebrating and seemed to usher in the time in the temple where proxy work could be performed by people other than descendants.
Mackley: It is an interesting topic because for those of us who administer or participate in temple ordinances, it seems very logical that there would be some people who would have thousands of ancestors that they can find, and others who would have very few. But it was such a personal responsibility that the idea that someone could help you with your own relatives had not occurred to them. Wilford Woodruff had been gathering information on his family members and had more than 3,000 names that he wanted to do ordinance for and yet he was the only one of his family who was in St. George at the time. So he said he inquired of the Lord to know how it was possible to get all these ordinances done. He asked how to solve the problem and he said the Lord told him to call some of the saints in St. George to have them serve as proxies. What was interesting to me about this was that this revelation came to Wilford Woodruff rather than to Brigham Young, who was the prophet and who was in St. George at the time and working in the temple. Wilford said that this was an incredibly important revelation and, with Brigham’s permission, 154 women joined him in the temple to perform the work. I did find the record of one of the women who said she had heard that Wilford Woodruff was looking for individuals to help and that she hoped and prayed that she would be one chosen because it was such a privilege to assist. They wanted to return to the temple and the only way to do that was if they were doing work for someone else. This too was something that was fascinating because now we can “repeat” ordinances in the sense that we act as proxies. Up to 1877, the only people that could “repeat” those ordinances to hear those promises and those blessings, were those who administered the ordinances in the temple or those who could work as proxies for their own family members. If they didn't have that ability, if they didn't have that family history like Wilford Woodruff had, they didn't get to go back to the temple. Women couldn't serve missions at that time, and for women who didn't have another way to serve in the Church, this was a big change for them and they were very excited about it that they could serve as proxies.
Nelson: Perhaps we should clarify that to him this didn't necessarily apply to the proxy baptisms. With proxy baptism service as long as you're a male performing a proxy baptism for another male then that's fine, whoever that happens to be. But with the additional temple ordinances, such as endowments, you sort of had an heirship right to do those ordinances.
Mackley: It was something that, again, developed over time because initially women acted as proxies for men and men for women. They were so excited they didn't wait for any further instructions; they just went right to the river and began. It was Phebe who wrote to Wilford Woodruff about the rules for proxy baptisms in Nauvoo and said that Joseph had instructed them that only if a ministering angel came to them could they do the work for someone else that wasn't a relative. The development between Nauvoo and St. George was more of a formal process, and baptisms needed to occur before the men were ordained by proxy and that needed to occur before the proxy endowments. But that was something that hadn't been an issue in the Nauvoo Temple because there were no proxy ordinations. That needed to be determined in St. George and that’s why 1877 was the first time that these things were written down. Knowing that there would be more than one temple and that there would need to be administration over long distances when the prophet was not there. All of those things required changes and that's what was basically set in place in the St. George Temple.
Nelson: What role did Wilford Woodruff play in terms of making adjustments to or perhaps just formalizing temple record-keeping? I know that there were records kept of the proxy work that had been performed prior to the St. George Temple work, but to what degree was that systematic. What influence did Wilford Woodruff have personally in that process?
Mackley: It is not clear that he had any influence necessarily, but it was in the St. George Temple that they began taking slips of paper with the names of the deceased on them and that they began preparing record “forms” to use so that there was not only a record for the temple but at that time they had their own individual records. Most of the initial ordinances were written in individuals journals because they were required to keep that record. Wilford Woodruff preached a lot about that because people were not writing it down and he said, “how are we to be judged out of these books that are written on earth if you don't write them down?” So that was one thing that he stressed a lot was just recording it. But they actually issued printed temple records so that the initial baptisms could be recorded. The baptisms for the dead, the baptisms for health, and the re-baptisms were all separate ordinances and recorded separately. So that was not necessarily something that Wilford Woodruff himself was in charge of or directed, but was a part of the process that Brigham Young began in 1877. Then changes were made over the years on who had to sign recommends or what columns were recorded in these individual records of ordinances (such as name of deceased, name of proxy, name of the individual administering the ordinance, witnesses of the ordinance, etc.).
Nelson: It seems like as I am reading your book and reflecting on things it’s as though Wilford perhaps more than that any of the other apostles at the time, perhaps in large part because he was the temple president, seemed to really grasp the importance of temples and proxy work. You cite some speeches which he gave that essentially say doing this proxy work is the same as going out and doing missionary work for the living; like this is very vital if not more so. To your knowledge were there any other apostles during that time period in the late 1870s and1880s that were addressing this work of redeeming the dead in the same manner that Wilford Woodruff was?
Mackley: The short answer is no. It was something that Wilford Woodruff seemed to understand from the very beginning, and it may have been his sensitivity to his own family and the deaths that they experienced. His mother died when he was 15 months old and his father remarried and five of the six half-siblings that Wilford had died when they were young. One died when he was in his 20s and then his only sister died after she was married, but still had no children. So it may have been those kinds of losses that, from the very beginning of his conversion to the Church, he was concerned about their welfare, and each revelation that Joseph received, he was thrilled. We talked about the joy of understanding that there was not just a heaven and a hell, but that there was a merciful God who understood that there's no bright line. Even in Nauvoo after Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were killed Wilford remained focused on the temple ordinances. When he asked Brigham, “Are we going to continue baptisms?'' and Brigham said, “ You know that's really not my focus right now,” Wilford Woodruff continued them. He was the only one that would continue baptisms for the dead as they came across the plains and it was something that he was involved with in the Endowment House, in the Council House and then it showed when he was called to be the President. Even John Taylor recognized that Wilford had this focus. It showed to me, at least, why he was chosen to continue these things. As I said, my initial research was into his vision of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. My initial question was “Why him? Why didn't they come to Brigham Young, or why didn't they appear to somebody else and say, “ Can you take care of this?” I think it was because he was that focused on it.
Nelson: His focus on that was also a key to one of the insights I got in the book that I hadn’t necessarily viewed in that specific manner before. You describe the events leading up to when the Manifesto was issued, and I like the way that you've phrased it in that Wilford ended up praying about what to do. The nature of his questioning changed when there was the very real and imminent threat of losing the temples. It was made clear when you reached that stage in the book and even after listening in on this discussion, it should be clear that Wilford Woodruff had a real love and devotion for proxy work in the temple and the work of redeeming the dead. It was a very precious experience for him and so when suddenly there's this very real imminent threat that the temples could be lost, that seemed to change the nature of his questioning in prayer and concern. Would you perhaps highlight or better define the events which led to the change in the types of questions Wilford Woodruff was asking?
Mackley: That was what was interesting to me and, maybe partly because I'm an attorney and a former prosecutor, just the political maneuvering and the legal battles that they went through especially in the late 1880s. He had stood and said as adamantly as John Taylor or Brigham Young that we are not giving up polygamy. This was just a year before the Manifesto, and all the politics and legal issues weren’t going to stop them. That's why the about-face, to me, was so striking. People can say it was political pressure, and of course that was a factor, but the understanding of the context, of what was going on: the persecution that they were under, the government taking the perpetual emigration fund, not allowing them to be citizens, taking away the right to vote or hold office, etc. All those things are why they left the United States to begin with so they could govern themselves. They had applied for statehood 6 to 7 times by then and being turned down meant they were still under the thumb of the federal government. They wanted to be able to choose their own politicians and make their own laws and none of that was going to happen, in fact it was going backwards. So I thought “of course that's why the sudden change.” But all that had been going on for basically 40 years, so why this about-face?
Understanding the timing of the dedication of the Manti Temple and the change in who was handling the escheated property and what was next, was when the government said, ”we are not going to stand by our agreement. We said that those buildings that were used strictly for religious purposes would be safe, now we are going to reconsider that.” So Wilford’s statement that “we must do something to save our temples” was the change, and that was on August 16th. At the end of that month he left for California and the day after he came back he called the apostles together and said, “This situation has changed completely.” It makes sense when you understand that one statement, that one change in the law, from the Utah Territorial Supreme Court: they wouldn't stick to what they agreed to. They would take the temples, and that's why when you read his speeches following the Manifesto that's what he says over and over again. He did get a lot of flak from members of the church and people in government - politicians. This isn’t real! You're just saying this, and that's why the man who had been handling the case was so significant for me because he said, “ You know what, none of that would've mattered.” You know people would have continued to defy the law if they didn't believe that he was a prophet, and that what he said was what needed to happen. No pressure from politics would've changed it.
Nelson: They certainly hadn’t curtailed much up to that point and there were many drastic measures. One thing that caused me to contemplate was that I wondered what would have happened had a different person been the president of the Church at that time. Other than Wilford who, very likely, more so than any of the other Church leaders at the time, had such a deep affinity and love for the temples. What might have happened had a different leader been in place when those events were happening?
Mackley: As I studied this time period, especially the personalities of Brigham Young and John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, I don't think that the Church would've survived had John Taylor been prophet at the time. In a sense, that property would've been taken. The government would've taken the temples. The ability for the people to join the Saints in Utah and get across the plains through the perpetual emigration fund, the cattle herds, the sheep herds, all those were taken and they couldn't have more than $50,000 (the threshold the government set). That would have stopped the Church growth. They may have been able to hold onto polygamy, but the leaders would have been in prison. They would not have been able to work their farms and resolve things. John Taylor's defiance was not Wilford Woodruff’s personality, given the context of what he was doing. And yet, John Taylor's place in Church history and his role in what happened was what he was there for. Brigham Young’s role is the same. They each had a role, and they fulfilled that position. Wilford Woodruff couldn't have led the Saints across the plains. I don't think Brigham Young would've responded the same way that Wilford Woodruff responded in 1890. Of course it's all a complete guess, but he was a different personality and he did have a different approach. He did have a different perspective long-term and that was something that changed over the course of his life as well. His millennial point of view and his waiting for that, saying that God would fight this battle for them, I think he was surprised at the answer he was given in 1890, and yet he did what he thought he was told to do.
It's interesting on this point, one of the reviews that I received was the Kirkus Review, and they basically said something like “the author does not make any attempt to convert,” which I thought was interesting. Because this book is just a presentation of what he witnessed and what he believed. It’s not, “I think you should believe this too.” That's not the purpose of the book. There are those who say “because God said so” is not the answer, but for Wilford Woodruff it was. So I'm not going to put words in his mouth and say the Manifesto was for any other reason than because God said so.
Nelson: Again as I said, I was reading the book when I really stopped there. I know you were writing it to show Wilford’s experiences on these things, it definitely helped put that in perspective. I could see how there could be people coming at the book really from both ways of accusations, that you are presenting things in such a way as to destroy people’s faith or I could see many people looking at it and saying all “this is nothing more than a Church missionary track in disguise.” You kept a pretty good balance with approaching these things.
I guess it kind of draws towards an end here. Around the same time we also get Wilford Woodruff having impact on some of these temple rituals. Could you give us just a brief review here at the end of Wilford Woodruff’s life? It seems that there's a bit of a curtailment of the rebaptisms for renewal of covenants, a cessation of the practice of the law of adoption, and really kind of the unfolding of much of the temple work, as far as proxy work is concerned, largely to the way it is still in practice today. Could you give us just a quick overview of maybe some of those events and how and when that played out?
Mackley: Wilford Woodruff is talked about as the father of a modern temple worship because it was in the 1890s that all these things changed. Again, it wasn't this edge of the cliff turnabout, it was a progression that occurred naturally. Rebaptism had been introduced by Joseph Smith in the 1840s, and Wilford Woodruff himself had been rebaptized seven times. Brigham Young at least that many. For them it was evidence of a recommitment . Rebaptism was part of each new beginning, whether it was entering the valley or being rebaptized before they went to the temple for the first time. Things changed in the sense that the fonts in the temple became a place for baptism for the dead, not for rebaptism. All those ordinances became more formalized, since they were not occurring in rivers and streams. They were only occurring in the temple. Then, over time, individuals were feeling like rebaptism was diluting the significance of the original baptism. So that was something they discussed over the years, and it was in the 1890s that those changes occurred. Rebaptism was no longer something that you did to recommit, it was taking the sacrament. Even that was something that over time changed. Taking the sacrament didn't originally occur every week at the beginning of Church history. It was something that was formalized later.
The law of adoption was the biggest change and that was in 1894 when Wilford just said, “You know, Joseph Smith didn't feel right about this. Brigham Young didn't. John Taylor didn't. And now we know what God wants us to do.” It wasn't until then that they could actually do what, in Wilford’s words, God intended. That was because it took 71 years for them to put in place all of those steps: the restoration of priesthood, restoration of those ordinances, the conversion or the raising of generations within the Church who could then be sealed to each other, do the history and the research that would allow them to know who those ancestors were, and then to have people who were baptized and endowed and sealed within the Church who could do the proxy work for those who had not had that opportunity in mortality. Finally after 71 years you have those steps that were needed to actually say, now we can begin sealing multiple generations because we have proxy ordination and we have proxy endowments and we have generations to seal. So it makes sense that the adoption into someone else's priesthood lineage was no longer necessary because they had a priesthood lineage within their own family.
I think a critical difference too was Wilford Woodruff said, “You don't have to worry that they are not going to accept the gospel. That's not our place. Our place is to do these ordinances and it's up to them whether they accept them or not.”
Nelson: It was largely Wilford Woodruff who is the one who introduced the idea of saying “You don't need to worry about it, basically, God will take care of it. If there are any issues just get sealed to your ancestors and all will be okay.”
Mackley: He even went a step further to say there will be few, if any, who won't accept the gospel in the spirit world. That was the reason many Church members had hesitated to be sealed to their ancestors because they were afraid. Many had been disowned when they joined the Church, so it was understandable that they would be concerned about being sealed to those who did not believe in or accept the Restored Gospel. But the revelation to Wilford Woodruff was to honor your fathers and mothers, be sealed to them, and don't judge them.
Nelson: So was it largely a general view of Wilford Woodruff’s --kind of more of a Universalist type view of a differential salvation of the human family—that perhaps looking at the eventuality of every knee bowing and everyone largely, with rare few exceptions, accepting the gospel and living together forever as an eternal sealed family.
Mackley: It was something that he hoped for before these ordinances were ever introduced, before he was ever introduced to the Gospel. He said, “I just didn't believe that an innocent child would be judged in all the same ways as someone who lived a life of sin. Neither of them were baptized and yet how could God be a just and merciful God if those individuals are treated the same.” So if it was something that he believed that God should do and, as these revelations occurred, he wrote pages and pages about how important it was to know that God was reasonable and merciful and just. These things made perfect sense, but he never expected them to be so clear and that they would be ordinances that would accomplish what he thought and hoped would be possible.
Nelson: Thank you so much again for writing this book and for talking with us. I guess at this point I'd like to invite you, if there are any thoughts you might like to share, things that you learned that stood out to you or perhaps even just a message that you feel is most important so we can take from both the life of Wilford Woodruff and the development of temples that occurred. I would just like to hear your final thoughts in summary on that.
Mackley: For me, the most important message of his life was that it is a process. What he learned through the process is that faith is required. And it's not just a process for the Church, although the Church had to go through this process, or for a prophet, because he didn't expect perfection, nor did he believe he exemplified it. This is a process for each of us as individuals and it is a process for us as a Church. For him it was not a problem having continuing revelation, which means change, when you also needed to have perfection in mind. It was truly the definition of completeness. He said, “The gospel will never be complete. Revelation will never be perfect, because it goes through us.” To me that is both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. I think that's why this book is comforting and disconcerting at the same time. But the message I hope that people receive is these teachings, this history, this development is right in front of us. The footnotes don't go to some obscure source, they go to the Doctrine and Covenants. They go to the history that we have and that we've always had, but it's something that we have to understand in context, and that's what I hope this will provide.
Nelson: Thank you so much. I had very similar thoughts on finishing, that people can read this and realize that if we want to say that we are part of the true and living church that we need to recognize a part of living is growing and adapting and changing. And, as you mentioned, it is both comforting and disconcerting, and I think that maybe for the last, I don't know how long in the Church that the disconcerting aspect of the living organization has been, but what has prevailed is that we have pushed more towards the Church being complete, being perfect. Even just this last General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk about how the restoration is still occurring and this is a living church. I think that your book does a fantastic job of highlighting those exact principles. So thank you again for writing the book and for coming on here, and I imagine there'll probably be some questions and comments for you regarding the book. Would you be able to come in and check out some of the comments here and there on the blog?
Mackley: I would love to because if this book doesn't start a conversation then I've failed. So that would be great.
Nelson: So please listeners, don't let that fail. Get the book. Check it out. I think it's a fantastic resource and as I said, my initial reaction of reading it was it was coming across to me as a very faithful perspective and approach, and it seems to me like this seems much tamer than even say Rough Stone Rolling, or some of these other books that are sold through Deseret Book. So if you're looking at sharing this with others, I feel like this book goes more into the details of our history. It is a very safe choice and a very important one. So please go check it out and I thank Jennifer again so much for coming.