Our life together in, and as, the Church

09.16.2020 | The Maxwell Institute

Rosalynde Frandsen Welch earned a PhD in early modern English literature from the University of California at San Diego. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and author of Ether: a brief theological introduction. This post is part of a series of reflections about the 2019 Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar. See the rest here

Last year, the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar embarked on its annual summer event, the sixth of its kind. Building on that experience, our procedures and methods are, by now, a mostly-well-oiled machine. Nevertheless, this session brought a few historic firsts. I was honored to serve as the first woman to lead the seminar, with Joseph Spencer as my co-director. While the seminar has always striven for gender parity, this year’s integrated leadership meant that, for the first time this year, women seminarians outnumbered men around the discussion table.

It was especially fitting, then, that the Seminar took as its text Doctrine and Covenants 25, the 1830 revelation to Emma Hale Smith, and the only stand-alone revelation addressed to a woman. This too was an historic first for the Seminar’s summer events. The Doctrine and Covenants has enjoyed little intensive scholarly attention of the sort the Seminar brings to bear on scripture, and we feel that this was a needed and significant step in our collective understanding of that textually-complex book of scripture.

Moreover, due to the nature of the text, we attracted a number of accomplished historians to the Seminar, which changed the disciplinary flavor of our discussions. While our inquiry remained grounded in theology and textual analysis, we found that our process was enriched by the infusion of history. We feel that we were able to share with the field of Latter-day Saint history some of the vision and methods that the Seminar has developed over the past ten years. Theology and history must be close partners in any exploration of the Latter-day Saint tradition.

Over the course of our two week seminar, we made significant discoveries about the structure of Doctrine and Covenants 25, the spiritual and practical function of gender therein, and the scriptural forms at work in the section’s sixteen verses. These insights will be fully developed in the forthcoming volume, which will feature the papers shared at our final symposium.

In short, we found that the bibliographic history of the text yields important theological views on the social production of scripture through the agencies of both the prophet and the interpretive community. We found that the function of gender in the text is, unsurprisingly, complex, but in general affords Emma Smith much greater scope of agency and authority than is generally recognized. We discovered that a rich biblical allegory of the Bridegroom (Christ) and the Bride (the Church) is clearly at work in the ways the section 25 signifies as scripture. And we found that the text offers a beautiful and theologically significant account of song as sacrament and of hymn selection as an important and often-overlooked vector of communal theology.

At the Women’s Session of the October 2019 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson recommended D&C 25 to the membership of the church, saying that “the Lord’s counsel to Emma, can guide and bless each of you.”

I add my recommendation. This section of scripture is rich, and it has much to teach us about our life together in and as the church.