69: Patriarchal Blessings

One of Mormonism’s unique features is the patriarchal blessing in which LDS church members–generally mid-teens or older, though there is no official age limit–are given the chance to have hands laid upon their heads by an experienced and humble priesthood leader who has been set apart as a “patriarch” and to receive from him words of wisdom, inspiration, encouragement, guidance, and in many cases, prophetic-type pronouncements about possibilities for their lives, with some of these statements quite specific or unique. Most Latter-day Saints consider their patriarchal blessings wonderful treasures in their lives, and as containing words (as panelist Richard Bushman says in this episode) that are “set apart from other words” and seen as God’s words just for us. They are, as he says, words that can galvanize our powers, direct us, humble us, and make us better people.

There is, however, quite an air of mystery around patriarchal blessings, and because of their unique character and the felt sense of sacredness surrounding them, many Latter-day Saints add expectations about what these blessings are that are perhaps not warranted. Some see them as absolute predictors of future events or straight-from-God declarations about their past lives as spirits before mortality. As a result, some who have previously taken statements in their blessings (or the blessings of others) to be literal, “this and this is going to happen” kinds of pronouncements, become quite troubled when events do not unfold exactly as the blessing suggested–or at least they felt it suggested according to the reading they brought to it or the expectations they had about the nature of these blessings.

In this Mormon Matters episode, we have the privilege of having a wonderfully fresh and engaging discussion with Richard Bushman, a well-known and distinguished historian who from 1989 until a few years ago also served as a stake patriarch. He, in interaction with podcast host Dan Wotherspoon and panelist Jared Anderson, generously offers his perspectives on just what patriarchal blessings are–and what they are not. In what way are they “prophecy”–and he does not back down from that term!–but also what are our responsibilities in working with all words of God, even prophecy (which, he is very adamant about, are all mediated by human minds)? How might someone re-frame what they see as a patriarchal blessing’s promise–such as being alive at the time of Christ’s return–that has “failed”? He also shares much about his own calling to be a patriarch and what the experience of giving patriarchal blessings is like for him. He explores his sense of what it means to declare someone’s “lineage” through one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jared Anderson, in this section as well as an earlier framing of biblical precedents for patriarchal blessings and prophecies offers a wonderful reminder of the history of Israel and the “lost tribes,” along with fascinating insights into certain lines of argument in today’s biblical scholarship that both complicate and possibly free up for some people expectations about literal descent or what is going on when the Bible seems to contain passages that predict the future. Finally, the panelists discuss the idea of pre-existence in Mormon thought that often finds its way into patriarchal blessings through the words of some patriarchs who declare things about recipients’ “valiancy” during the War in Heaven or refer to some other aspect of pre-earth existence. If some people are declared to have been especially valiant, is the flip-side true that many others were not? Evil has often been done with such ideas, so this notion offers a good opportunity for an important wrestle–one that this discussion delivers, and one that we hope (along with many other themes in this episode) will continue to play out in the blog comments below.



75 comments for “69: Patriarchal Blessings

  1. January 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I haven’t heard this episode, but have this lingering question:

    Evangelist=Patriarch? Say what?

    Joseph Smith, Jr. apparently studied Ephesians 4:11 which states, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”.  Attempting to model his newly created Church after that verse,  Smith reportedly racked his brain, and  identified the term evangelist with the office of patriarch in 1839, stating that “an Evangelist is a Patriarch”. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 151.)

    Smith ordained his father, Joseph Smith, Sr. to the office of Patriarch in 1833. Curiously, the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) also has the office of a Patriarch, but calls him the “Chief Evangelist.”

    But does the term square up with its etymology, or even common sense?

    Take a look at its origin from this dictionary:

    “evangelist – late 12c., “Matthew, Mark, Luke or John,” from O.Fr. evangelist and directly from L.L. evangelista, from Gk. euangelistes “preacher of the gospel,” lit. “bringer of good news,” from euangelizesthai “bring good news,” from eu- “good” (see eu-) + angellein “announce,” from angelos “messenger” (see angel). In early Greek Christian texts, the word was used of the four supposed authors of the narrative gospels. Meaning “itinerant preacher” was another early Church usage, revived in M.E. (late 14c.). Classical Gk. euangelion meant “the reward of good tidings;” sense transferred in Christian use to the glad tidings themselves. In Late Latin, Gk. eu- regularly was consonantized to ev- before vowels.”


    Smith’s Bible Dictionary (no relation to Joseph) defines an evangelist in the following manner:

    “Evangelist — (publisher of glad tidings ). In the New Testament the “evangelists” appear on the one hand after the “apostles” and “prophets;” on the other before the “pastors” and “teachers.” They probably stood between the two. ( Acts 21:8 ; Ephesians 4:11 ) The work of the evangelist is the proclamation of the glad tidings to those who have not known them, rather than the instruction and pastoral care of those who have believed and been baptized. It follows also that the name denotes a work rather than an order . Its use is nearly like our word missionary. The evangelist might or might not be a bishop-elder or a deacon. The apostles, so far as they evangelized, ( Acts 8:25 ; 14:7 ; 1 Corinthians 1:17 ) might claim the title, though there were many evangelists who were not apostles. If the gospel were a written book, and the office of the evangelists was to read or distribute it, then the writers of such books were pre-eminently THE evangelists. In later liturgical language the word was applied to the reader of the gospel for the day.”


    After examining the evidence, do those definitions have anything to do with a “patriarch?”

    • January 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      Ben, I am glad you brought up this question. We were so focused on discussing the blessings (and I think that focus  filled the time well) that we didn’t get into the fascinating history of the calling of Patriarch itself. I agree with you (as does the Greek of the term) that “Evangelist” refers to someone to preaches the gospel, perhaps with a higher degree of authority than regular missionaries. I understand the Evangelist=Patriarch connection either. 

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      I’ve never felt it was a solid connection either. To me, this identification lies in Joseph and his guys wanting to match in today’s church however they could any hints that are in the NT about various offices and roles, leading them to declare a fit where there probably wasn’t/isn’t one. 

      I’ve always thought far more (and I suggested it just in passing in the episode) that Smith likely began the musings that led to creating the office of patriarch from his readings of the OT and about patriarchs blessing their sons (and, we hope, daughters) in which they speak to their unique qualities and future hopes for them, etc.. Additional support for this sense of origins, to me, comes in the fact that Smith called his father to the role first, and that the office (or Presiding Patriarch) was hereditary up until just a few decades ago when it was disbanded. Plus the whole lineage piece quite clearly speaks to OT origins rather than NT ones, IMO.

      • January 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

        I agree. It seems the evangelist=patriarch connection was at most made in passing and then it got solidified through tradition, perhaps more than Joseph originally meant it. But the motivation does seem to connect the modern LDS Church to the biblical Church in any way possible. 

        • Christopher Bradford
          January 12, 2012 at 5:40 am

          Given Joseph’s later emphasis on the Patriarchal Priesthood and its connections to Abraham and the temple, it may be that we should take a more expanded view of what he meant by “patriarch” and see it as encompassing the role of evangelist, or messenger, from God. It may make more sense in a temple context.

      • January 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm

        Wait, disbanded?  Didn’t the current Church Patriarch just turn 105?  or is Presiding Patriarch something different?

        • Christopher Bradford
          January 12, 2012 at 5:38 am

          The office of presiding patriarch was discontinued during Spencer W. Kimball’s presidency (shortly before the revelation on the priesthood) when Eldred G. Smith (the one who just turned 105) was made an emeritus GA. Irene Bates and Eldred’s son, E. Gary Smith, wrote “Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch” (University of Illinois Press): http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/73frh7te9780252071157.html

      • January 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm

        I just reread Quinn’s Mormon Heirarchy section on the Patriarch a few weeks ago. I agree I think there is hereditary precedence with Issac and definitely Jacob.

        The church patriarch was to give blessings to members who where not of the blood of Israel or to members who’s parents were not of the faith or should a father apostatize, his children could receive a blessing via the office.

        I think Joseph also believed that a father by right should give patriarchal blessings to his children which I think is something we shouldn’t have gotten rid of.

        If I remember Quinn correctly church patriarch was a position of apostleship and sustained as a prophet seer and revelator equal in authority to the 1st pres and 12 and 70.

        I think the positions demise was when Eldred asked after the 1978 priesthood policy change something to the effect of “what house of Israel should I put the children of Cain into”? LOL that was the end of that office.

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          January 23, 2012 at 10:28 pm

          Too funny with the last bit, Michael. Thanks! 

          Your line about the “equal in authority” to the Twelve and Seventy” brings to my mind one of the insights in the Irene Bates and Gary Smith history of the office of the presiding patriarch (called Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch). I read the book years and years ago and can’t find it on my shelves, so forgive if I am recalling incorrectly, but I think one of the reasons it was disbanded was to ease a long-standing tension between lineage-determined priesthood/positions (I can’t recall their term, but basically that it was going to be a Smith descendant through that line who would always be the presiding patriarch) and what the rest of the church’s structure was of leaders called by God without any regard to their parentage (worthiness, selected for some particular reason by God to serve, etc.). Anyway, imagining that tension the best I could, I can definitely see why there was a feeling of “good riddance” among a lot of the leaders. It was just too weird to have this person among them who perhaps didn’t feel to them as authentically chosen as they were. 
          I’m sure I botched the above, but hopefully the gist of what I’m recalling comes across.

          • January 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm

            If anything it shows the church’s importance of the blood of Israel has transitioned from literal to more figurative.

            I think there are scriptures like Malachi or Moroni’s rendition that the hearts of the children will be turned to the promises made to their father’s ie the Abrahamic covenant and the teachings of Christ are directed to the Jews, he’s telling them they’re the salt of the Earth, he’s not speaking to the Africans or Chinese and telling them to be the salt of the earth, he’s telling his people they need to bless the nations of the Earth and fulfill that aspect of the Abrahamic covenant by bringing them the Gospel of Christ, in doing so they earn exaltation.

            Then you have scriptures that talk about adoption into Israel, becoming part of the family and being heir to the blessings of Abraham which tends to support a more figurative argument.

            I think early Mormon history was very much blood/literal which seemed to climax with Brigham Young and it’s slowly become more and more figurative climaxing with the end of office of a church patriarch that was a literal descendant through the Smith family.

            Fun stuff! Keep it up! 😉

        • jo
          August 25, 2015 at 11:59 pm

          I don’t know that I would agree with your opinion on how father’s should give patriarchal blessings. My father was never really involved in my spiritual life, even insofar as when I was given a patriarchal blessing by our stake patriarch my father was absolutely unable to hear a word of it, even though he was in the room. He wasn’t able to remember even a single portion of it later, and I am glad for that. I would not have wanted him to hear it.

  2. January 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    This was amazingly helpful and inspiring. Brother Bushman’s comments, especially, were great. All around superb discussion, thank you!

  3. KC
    January 11, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Fascinating discussion. Will brother Bushman write an article for the Ensign based on the things he said in this podcast especially what he said in the 7-10 min mark, because in my opinion this is not the view members have of patriarchal blessings. The only caveat  I have ever heard about Pat. Blessings is that they are conditional upon faithfulness. I was a little taken back by his comments in what seemed like a blame the victim tone because someone has the gumption to actually take literally their blessing. Think he said it was immature way of viewing our blessing.  I was happy that Jared stepped in to discuss and question this assertion.  (btw. Jared is the most intelligent, rational thinking, articulate guest I have heard on any of the mormon themed podcasts, a little long winded at times but fantastic)

    So after listening to Richard Bushman’s views on having a more mature realistic expectation of Pat. Blessings,  I wonder what’s the difference between a patriarchal blessing and a fathers blessing, baby blessing, or any other blessings for that matter?  I always was taught that pat blessings are special, they are revelation for our life, for guidance and direction, they reveal our life’s potential if we are faithful.  My blessings says, “this blessings is given by the authority of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood…as an ordained Patriarch I am authorized to pronounce this blessings upon your head…blessing is given by revelation from your Heavenly Father.  This sounds pretty official. Am I naïve in believing it will thus contain Gods will for my life? 

    I wish I had heard what brother Bushman said 20 years ago because I took my blessing very seriously. I made choices in career, employment, other life decisions based in part on the counsel and direction in my blessing.  I was promised I would see even the dead rise on my mission. Of course, I didn’t experience this and it always caused me a little concern but I put it on the shelf.  Then after years of relying upon those many promises in my blessing and realizing that these things just aren’t happening, I because very disillusioned and ultimately led to a serious crises of faith.  My pat blessing has been a blessing and a curse. Perhaps if I had the perspective brother bushman shared it would not have been a curse because I would have had a more mature view and not taken it so literally or made life decisions based on it or seen it as God’s divine will for my life.  My bad. 

    So again, why do we need a patriarchal blessing?  Can we rely anymore upon a patriarchal blessing to divine our future than a mystic or crystal ball. I don’t mean disrespect to something mormons hold as special but if we put out there that a patriarchal blessing is a unique blessing from God specifically for our life including direction, counsel, promises, and its fulfillment is only conditioned upon our faithfulness, isn’t this dishonest?  Before my kids get their patriarchal blessings they will be getting the Richard Bushman view as expressed in the first portion of the podcast. 

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 11, 2012 at 11:28 pm

      Good notes, KC. Thank you!

      I’m copying below an exchange from one of the FB threads on this episode that hits on similar themes to what you raise. It contains many of the same basic thoughts I’d respond with here. (Fun that we both hit on the same “blame the victim” notion.)

      From Kenton Karrasch:

       Dan, great podcast I am halfway done and am impressed by everyone. I must say though I have loved Jared’s questions. Richard Bushman did a great job in answering the questions. However, this podcast is for MO 2.0 types. I could not help but feel a little bad for Jared and the topic, the fact is Richard Bushman is an Anomaly. The realities on the ground do not necessarily support his ideals or perceptions on the topic. Good job so far on trying to hold him to tough questions. Reasonable for us, but the frustrations may remain for countless individuals.

      My reply to Kenton in that thread: 

      Kenton,  I agree with your notes. Jared and I talked afterward and were both excited and a bit nervous by Richard’s “I think that’s basically an immature way of seeing things” types of comments early on. When he first said what he did, I jumped in to steer toward a challenge along the lines of “but doesn’t the discourse in today’s church kind of set people up for that?” and then Jared went to town in that area, too. Jared’s and my sense in our follow-up chat was that we maybe just didn’t do a good enough job of alerting Richard to the discussion audience, or that maybe he simply forgot that a lot of folks would be listening who didn’t have the kind of training that Jared and I do, so he was simply engaging us as he would if the three of us were at dinner or something.

      In the end, I’m thrilled by his frank talk. What a treat to simply have someone like him basically assume so deeply that it is the natural work everyone is called to do to learn how to work with the words of God, scripture, prophecy, etc. No coddling, simply a kind of “Of course, we’re all called to grow up and constantly revisit, reassess!” attitude. I love that level of confidence in God/scripture/blessings (even with their human fingerprints!), and I hope others will too–that is, after the initial shock of what may seem if not heard charitably as if he’s “blaming the victims” of the church’s literalistic, Fowler Stage 3 sort of rhetorical level.

      Your notes at the end about whether PBs are much different than having a mystic offer a reading via a crystal ball is interesting. In some ways, I’d say no. In both cases (assuming the mystic is honest and not trying to dupe folks) I see the same basic mechanism at work in that the person is working to focus on getting a feel for the person in front of them and fighting for clues and fragments of wisdom that might serve them well in their lives. In other ways I’d say yes it’s quite different in things like no money involved, no real temptation by the patriarch to sensationalize in order to get more clients via referrals, good-hearted, humble men with a sense of having been called to this work and approaching it very sincerely and with wide open hearts and yearning for good things to manifest in the blessing, etc. And feel free to add in whatever one might want depending on if one feels the priesthood is exclusive to Mormons, and in this way believing it’s a radically different thing at work. I tend to believe that we all have access to deep wisdom from God or the universe, but we generally have to work for it through disciplines that help us align ourselves with the levels-below-consciousness that these things are most easily accessed, plus training in how to interpret the symbolic language and kind of “all mixed together and there in a burst” kind of way it comes. (Again, I loved Richard’s “burst” language as it so matches my own experiences with revelation and also what I divine in my own patriarchal blessing.) All in all, then, I’m more trusting of the kind of men that patriarchs generally are and their experience with spiritual realms than I am with mediums or mystics for hire. On the other hand, I think there are definitely some people with exceptional spiritual talent who are not patriarchs, not Mormons. To me, patriarchal blessings are a very cool thing in Mormonism–unique in that it is a formalized thing in our tradition but not unique in only Mormons and patriarchs having access to deep wisdom about and for us–and if we meet our patriarchal blessings (and scripture) in ways that Richard articulates, they can be even cooler than how we generally think of them when we’re young or when the religious and cultural rhetoric in Mormonism gets super literal.

      • KC
        January 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm


        Thank you for sharing and your comments on the mystic stuff, appreciate your honesty .  In addition to what you said, the biggest difference I see is the expectations of the receiver.  I don’t think those getting a reading from a mystic fully trust and believe that what is said is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, there is some amount of skepticism to it. Whereas a patriarchal blessing is seen as authorized, official, and certain.. The fulfillment of which is only conditioned on faithfulness.  When psychic predictions dont come true is anyone really that surprised but when a patriarch’s predictions don’t come true it can be a cause of great concern because of the expectations and authority under which the promises are made.

    • January 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      @96cde25443e038b70c4f190400f706bd:disqus , thank you for the generous words. I think your comments really strike at the heart of the matter. However sophisticated and potentially helpful Bushman’s approaches are, they not only go against the way that most interpret patriarchal blessings, but they go against the actual straightforward reading of the blessings themselves! This is what I meant when I said the cost is very high in order to follow the interpretation modeled in this podcast—it requires deconstructing almost the entire blessing to get at some core principles. 

      And then if that is the case, if Patriarchal blessings are not to be interpreted literally, are not to be pondered in every word, how are they different from other blessings, as you asked? 

      It is interesting how Bushman stood behind the blessings as literal revelation and prophecy, but then problematized the interpretation. There is a risk as some have noted that this could lead to victim blaming… that yes, our blessings prophecy the future, but if we interpret it wrong it is just our faults. 

      Thanks for bringing up these important comments to consider. As I said, I still value my patriarchal blessing, but I view it very differently than I did my formative years. It is hard to say what the ideal way to give and interpret patriarchal blessings would be. 

      • KC
        January 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm


         I had never heard before that even the story of the great patriarchs abraham, Isaac,  Jacob and his 12 sons being directly tied together as family was a woven together narrative . Where can I find information on this?

        • January 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

          @96cde25443e038b70c4f190400f706bd:disqus , I know of several sources that talk about this, but I am trying to find the most readable, clearest one. Will get back to you on it.

          • Undercover Brother
            January 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

            Hi Jared,

            I would also like to read this story as I also have not heard of it before.

            Great Podcast, guys. Thanks

          • February 27, 2012 at 7:01 am

            Here are sources for the idea that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not related; I will include some quotes as well: 

            Jean-Louis Ska’s Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch (Eisenbrauns), 90-91.  This little section is on Genesis 28, which is often seen as the linchpin for arguing that the partriarchal stories were not originally related.  For more detailed treatments, See David Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis.  

            Ska argues that Gen. 28:13-15 is a later addition that serves to “unite various parts of the book of Genesis: to attach the Jacob cycle to the Abrahamic cycle (and to the Isaac cycle) and to organize the narratives about Jacob around the journey that will lead him back home after a prolonged adventure.” 
            Arguments the 12 tribes did not descend from brothers have to do with different passages where not all tribes are represented and how the specific tribes are spoken of. It seems most likely that the tribes enjoyed varying influence and that at a later point narratives were developed that explained the connections. 

            There are plenty of stories involving descent that are clearly fictional, such as the Gen. 19 story about the Moabites and Ammonites (Israel’s enemies) going back to an instance of incest. That is just an ancient equivalent of a redneck joke. 

          • UnderCover Brother
            February 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

             Thanks, Jared. Will check them out.

            Kindest Regards

          • UnderCover Brother
            January 30, 2012 at 8:52 am

            Hi Jared,

            Any update on this (or I may have missed it :-))?


          • UnderCover Brother
            February 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm

             Hi Jared,
            Any update to the above, please? This really interests me.


      • Jake
        January 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

        I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone who expects a patriarchal blessing to mean what it says that they are  being “immature” (as per Richard Bushman’s comment). This sounds like apologist spin to me in a weak attempt to justify why the reality doesn’t match the dogma – like those who try to claim that when the Book of Mormon says “horse” it doesn’t really mean horse or where it says “steel” it doesn’t really mean steel. 

  4. Beatrice
    January 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Interesting interview.  Two sections spoken by Richard Bushman stood out to me.

    “This idea that everything that comes from God is mediated from a human, I think it’s the heart of Mormonism.  So it’s what we do together.  Its not just knowing exactly what God wants, but learning to trust each other as speakers for God.  I think that I as a Patriarch can give a blessing that will come out of what I know and what I am that’s going to be different from someone with another set of capacities or experiences.”

    “We want to treat what we hear from our brothers and sisters as God speaking to us through the testimonies or through the words of the Prophets and Apostles.  And, in a way we are all propping each other up.  We’re trying to provide guides and stays and nourishment.  And that is all we have, is what we are able to tell one other.  So we have to trust it as the best thing we have to lead us towards heaven and at the same time recognize that we are all in the same boat together.  We are just doing the very best we can to speak for the Lord.”

    While I think it is a nice idea that we are all in the same boat as we try to receive revelation about the word of the Lord and give that information to each other, as a woman in the church I don’t feel like that is the case.  Currently, women are not in many positions in which their words are viewed as the words of the Lord in an official sense.  (The only exception I can think of is conference talks).  So for women, trusting each other really involves trusting the men in the church that they are receiving the word of the Lord and not being viewed as a speaker for God yourself.  Along those same lines, I think someone could gain a lot of insight into the nature of revelation through the experiences of giving blessings.  In my view, this puts women at a disadvantage as they receive and try to interpret blessings without knowing what it is like to be the person giving the blessing.   

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      Agree with you, Beatrice. My heart aches that this is the case now, and even though I think it will change, I know it doesn’t make it much or any easier in the moment. 

      I’m heartened by Mormonism’s history of women giving blessings, and I love hearing how it is happening again today with many women claiming this for themselves, practicing this in mature and humble but determined ways. I completely believe women, if they give themselves permission to feel as if it is their right to do so, can have the same experiences men do when they open themselves up to try to discern information and guidance from spiritual realms. It’s that dang doubt about that right–put there by culture that has now reinforced over and over again some uninspired actions that took those opportunities away from women (at least in open, official channels) that is so hard to overcome that internal doubt about whether or not one “should” practice this. 

      I’m certain God honors anyone seeking to learn deep truths and find resources for positive action, priesthood or not (and as my post in response to KC reveals, I’m not ever sure God is the pivotal factor in this sort of thing: it’s more whether or not the person is aligned with and trained in discerning the kind of language and symbolism in this realm whether or not this type of wisdom will flow–or be able to be successfully wrestled for, as is sometimes definitely the case!). I don’t know if you feel called within your heart to seek after these experiences yourself. If you are, I know you will be able to find an increasing number of LDS women who also feel called and who are beginning to take on these practices with their children, with each other, in concert with their husbands, etc. When the day comes that the church officially welcomes this practice again, it will be wonderful to have so many women who will be ready to teach others. 

  5. Anthony Garrett
    January 12, 2012 at 5:41 am

    “This idea that everything that comes from God is mediated through the human is the heart of Mormonism. It’s what we do together. It’s not just knowing exactly what God wants; it’s learning to trust each other as speakers for God.”

    I love this thought. And that last part of the statement not only has profound implications for this topic of prophesy and blessing but for the way we view and treat each other.

  6. shenpa warrior
    January 12, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Great episode!!!

    Just one comment on criticizing the “blame the victim” tone. I appreciated Jared’s and Dan’s input in that section of the episode, and I also wonder if some of us (including myself) are a little too sensitive to ANY perceived slight or ANY time we’re not feeling validated by whomever happens to be talking. Of course Bushman is not intending to invalidate anyone or call them idiots for taking something literally, so if he calls something “immature” or whatever how about once in a while we don’t get defensive, we accept that the way we previously thought might have been off and that’s not our fault because we just didn’t know better, and then try to learn from what he’s saying! 🙂

    It’s probably just my own stuff. I’m just growing tired of the sheer constancy of the complaints – NOT on this thread per se but I’ve seen this complaint EVERYWHERE.

  7. January 12, 2012 at 6:11 am

    I have an interesting talk given by Eldred G. Smith on patriarchal blessings.  I’ll try to scan it and post it somewhere.  Two tidbits of history I remember from the talk: 1) it was common in the early days of the church for people to have multiple blessings.  2) (if I remember this right) fathers sometimes were allowed to declare lineage for their children in a regular father’s blessing.

    Great podcast.  Loved it.

  8. RJ
    January 13, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Bro. Bushman talked about reading his patriarchal blessing to his grandchildren. My mother would often recite to me and my siblings that in my Grandmother’s PB it read that her grandchildren would be hand-selected by the savior. She described it in way that would indicate that we were especially close and familiar with him on a very personal level.  I can’t fully describe the wonderful sense of self worth and joy that would give me as a child. 
     As a kid I was predisposed to shyness and a low self-image.  That sense of divine worth that was taught to me was a life-saver.  Bro. Bushman raised the question of whether or not there was legitimate value in being told that we are special or valiant in our blessings. I’m just as weary and turned off by the negative forms of elitism that can spring from Mormon theology. However, for me personally, the sense of self-esteem that was instilled in me was extremely crucial in my life, additionally, it did not lead me to be overly critical or judgmental of others. I have gone out of my way to be ecumenical and fair with people all my life. 

    • RJ
      January 13, 2012 at 12:38 am

      Another related point about my Grandmother’s patriarchal blessing. It wasn’t until recently that I was finally able to read my Grandmothers blessing for myself. It was interesting, but perhaps not surprising, to find that the actual words of the blessing that my Mother was referring to, were not nearly as specific as the words she used when describing it to us children. I firmly believe, however, that it was not intentional deception on her part, and that she believed her words 100%. The discrepancy doesn’t bother me one bit, I wouldn’t trade those feelings for anything. 

      I think this is very relevant to your discussion.  

  9. Jacob Brown
    January 13, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I can honestly say that it didn’t bother me in the least when Bushman said something like it is immature to interpret patriarchal blessings literally. It’s weird because usually comments like that bother me, but I think patriarchal blessings are different for me. They always seemed a little too supernatural and at the same time too close to home for me to really dive into with personal belief. It kinda seems like fortune telling, and that doesn’t fit in so well with the whole free agency thing that is popular right now in LDS theology.

    I remember when I got my patriarchal blessing. I got my recommend from my bishop and was scheduled to meet with the stake patriarch. Then, all of the sudden my granddad was called as a patriarch in his stake. My parents and my bishop all asked if I wanted my granddad to do it instead of the stake patriarch, and I felt like I should keep going with the stake patriarch since it was all setup and everything. I think I was also worried about what the experience would be like with my granddad. He was brand new, and he didn’t really know me well.

    Anyway, when I went to see the stake patriarch he refused to perform the blessing. He felt I should go see my granddad instead. Even when I told him that I had already discussed the issue and wanted him to do it, he still refused. So I scheduled with my granddad.

    I think I was like the third or fourth blessing he gave. He did a little interview with me before hand. I think he told me some background on patriarchal blessings. Then he gave me the blessing. I really hoped it would be this wonderful experience and that there would be some special message in it. But I don’t really remember feeling anything remarkable about it, and the blessing is very boiler plate. I wasn’t even from one of the cool tribes.

    Maybe it just doesn’t work well if you don’t believe in it enough. I guess in that way it isn’t much different than any other priesthood blessing.

    • RachelM
      January 13, 2012 at 6:07 am

      LOL-  your last comment on “cool tribes” makes me laugh.  Isn’t that so typically mormon?  To share our tribe and consider one that is mentioned more rarely as “cooler”?  Thanks for the laugh!

  10. Jacob Brown
    January 13, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I can honestly say that it didn’t bother me in the least when Bushman said something like it is immature to interpret patriarchal blessings literally. It’s weird because usually comments like that bother me, but I think patriarchal blessings are different for me. They always seemed a little too supernatural and at the same time too close to home for me to really dive into with personal belief. It kinda seems like fortune telling, and that doesn’t fit in so well with the whole free agency thing that is popular right now in LDS theology.

    I remember when I got my patriarchal blessing. I got my recommend from my bishop and was scheduled to meet with the stake patriarch. Then, all of the sudden my granddad was called as a patriarch in his stake. My parents and my bishop all asked if I wanted my granddad to do it instead of the stake patriarch, and I felt like I should keep going with the stake patriarch since it was all setup and everything. I think I was also worried about what the experience would be like with my granddad. He was brand new, and he didn’t really know me well.

    Anyway, when I went to see the stake patriarch he refused to perform the blessing. He felt I should go see my granddad instead. Even when I told him that I had already discussed the issue and wanted him to do it, he still refused. So I scheduled with my granddad.

    I think I was like the third or fourth blessing he gave. He did a little interview with me before hand. I think he told me some background on patriarchal blessings. Then he gave me the blessing. I really hoped it would be this wonderful experience and that there would be some special message in it. But I don’t really remember feeling anything remarkable about it, and the blessing is very boiler plate. I wasn’t even from one of the cool tribes.

    Maybe it just doesn’t work well if you don’t believe in it enough. I guess in that way it isn’t much different than any other priesthood blessing.

  11. January 13, 2012 at 4:49 am

    If anyone is interested in transcribing this episode, I thought on a lark I’d start a crowd-sourced transcription effort. Check it out at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cmj5cKZvsQ_Ftn-APJ0L3PeGR2wzPL9R8I1BHk8FOJY/edit and pick a five-minute segment to transcribe if you’d like to help out. I loved this episode and would love to have a text-searchable version! 🙂

    • Adamdbowman
      January 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Adam B

  12. Adam B
    January 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I really enjoyed the discussion.  One thing I think that PBs do is place the church’s members into the Mormon mythic landscape. You are given a tribe which places you into the Mormon story and gives you a heritage , identity and a place in the universal family. As a member with no pioneer heritage the PB was a way for me to connect to the heritage of the gospel and Mormonism.  Like it was said in the podcast, you become connected to a tribe. When I look at the PB from this perspective I feel a connection to my family, and to my LDS culture, and to my ward members, which connects me to a responsibility, of many before me to do good in the world. Even though today I do not feel that I am a literal blood member of Israel, I still feel that connection, blessing, and responsibility.

  13. guest
    January 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Just for curiosity’s sake, has anyone ever heard of someone belonging to a tribe other than Ephriam or Manasseh?

    • Mary Webb
      January 15, 2012 at 6:39 am

      Benjamin….a roommate at Ricks’

    • DH
      January 17, 2012 at 5:28 am

      I’m from Dan and my sister is from Simeon while the rest of
      my family is from Ephraim.  (FYI: we’re pioneer stock, Anglo-ancestry, living in Davis County, UT).  In fact, that
      has been one of the most challenging aspects for me as my faith has moved from
      a literal to more symbolic space.   For years I had been, and in some ways still
      am, trying to figure out what it all means.   
      However, I have heard legends that the anti-Christ is from the tribe of
      Dan, and my address is 666 (no joke), so I guess there is that. 🙂

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        January 18, 2012 at 1:07 am

        Really interesting, DH! I wouldn’t know what to do with those lineage pronouncements either, but my hope for you is that you’ll find the challenges you talk about rich and exciting rather than depressing. I love your line about your faith moving from literal to more symbolic space. Makes me think you are on a great path with fantastic adventures ahead. Might even be fun to imagine being the anti-Christ for a while. Bet the view from that kind of imagined position would be really enlightening. Best! Dan (THE Dan–ha ha)

  14. Anonymous
    January 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Amazing job Dan, Jared, Richard, and all the prior comments. This podcast ranks in my book as one of my very favorites and most faith-promoting. Thanks for doing this.

  15. cameron
    January 14, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    @guest-yes, a man in my stake is from the tribe of Dan I believe. I too, STRUGGLE in believing my blessing. My entire whole world shattered when I got divorced. I too based my life on it, and leader’s “advice”. I don’t even read it now because it pains me to no end. I don’t even know what to make of it. Some parts I can see and have seen, other parts I am clueless and have been sorely tempted to rip it up and forget the whole thing. I am pained though when I go to Church and hear how other people say that their blessing is a light  to their lives, all is peachy with theirs. I am confused.

    • January 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      As I said, I understand how divorce can just tear apart confidence in a patriarchal blessing. Tough stuff. 

  16. cameron
    January 15, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Something that happened here is our Patriarch went inactive. Abruptly he was released and we have a new one. Not sure what happened with that man

    • guest
      January 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm

      Cameron, was the patriarch that went inactive the same one who did your blessing?   It would have been interesting for the panel to have discussed what effect the “worthiness” of the patriarch has on the blessings he gives.  

      • cameron
        January 17, 2012 at 5:13 am

        no, but I know a young fairly recent convert couple that got their blessings from him in the spring sometime and they still haven’t gotten them in the mail. So I told them to see the Bishop to get new ones-would be interesting to see how they compared-if the other patriarch would cough it up! It would be a very intriguing discussion I ‘d say!

  17. Guest
    January 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I would love to see the patriarchal blessings given by Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith and other early patriarchs.  Are these documents available to the public?

    • Anonymous
      January 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      I heard a good one yesterday in sacrament meeting.  I should speak to the man who was giving the talk to find out the source.  But he claimed that Joseph Smith Sr., when he was Patriarch, would tell people to just write down every blessing they felt they wanted, and he would just sign his name on the bottom, and because of their faith, everything they wrote in their blessing would come to pass.  Anyone else heard of this assertion? 

      • Anonymous
        January 16, 2012 at 9:32 pm

        Here we go, I found it: http://lds.org/new-era/1973/12/of-goodly-parents?lang=eng

        In 1860 Brigham Young recalled that Joseph Smith, Sr., the Patriarch, would typically say after giving a blessing: “If I have not promised blessings enough on your head and stated enough in the blessing I have given you, sit down and write every good thing you can think of and … your neighbor can think of, and put all into your blessing—and I will sign it, and promise the whole to you, if you will only live for it.” 9 There is a man with unlimited faith in everyone.

        Wow!  🙂  

        • January 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm

          Wow, indeed! And thanks for helping out with the transcription!

  18. Undercover Brother
    January 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    i guys,

    I just wanted again to say thanks for a great podcast. Very enjoyable.

    One thing that pricked my ears was the mention of Dan’s friend, who stated his P-Blessing mentioned that his valour in the pre-existence had a direct influence on his current birth place and circumstance and future blessings. I understood that Dan’s friend was worried about this as there is a downside (the Mormon Caste System, as Jared called it – loved it).
    Richard mentioned that people would not object to people being called valiant in the pre-existence in their P-Blessing. Jared then raised the Blacks and the Priesthood issue, the War in Heaven and the church heritage of some spirits not being as valiant as others.
    Richard then stated as a response that if anyone, regardless of colour, was to join the church now, their P-Blessing could still say they were a valiant angel from the wars in Heaven.
    The reason my ears pricked up was, what about those who are black who received their P-Blessings in the late 70’s/early 80’s? Would their P-Blessings mention they were valiant in the pre-existence when the’ doctrine’ being taught at the time was they were ‘fence-sitters’ and so were not valiant? I would have thought not, but I’m happy to be proven otherwise.
    Jared – you mentioned you have seen a few P-Blessings. Are you able to pull out this type of data?
    I guess a wider question is whether P-Blessings are influenced by the church doctrines being taught at the time. That would be a good study to review.

    On another note – I believe that members do read their P-Blessings literally – that is what we were/are taught to do, but there is a doctrinal gap if the literal statement doesn’t come to fruition. Either you get the unworthiness line thrown in. It fits the narrative and closes down the conversation or you are told not to read it literally – fits the narrative and closes down the conversation. Has anyone been taught otherwise? I’m happy to be convinced, if so.

    Coupled with the above – I know active members who have refused to get a P-Blessing no matter how much their family and Bishop have tried to convince them. Because, as sisters, they don’t want to be told that they will be single for the rest of their lives. Again – they have been taught to read them as literal communications from God Himself. And that scares them.  

    Again – loved the podcast.Thanks again.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks for pushing here. I was very interested in what he said about the pre-existence stuff in a lot of PBs, as well. But I was also pretty satisfied with how he responded. So if you’re cool with a reminder (at least as I remember without taking time to re-listen), then I’ll try to make a move on the question about what pre-revelation on blacks/priesthood PBs for black members might have said about pre-earth valiancy.

      If I recall right (and with some of my language and interpretation of what he says thrown in), he says he NEVER puts stuff about pre-earth valiancy in. When he’s giving blessings, the feelings and insights about the person under his hands are not exact words (he’s not reading from a scroll held open by an angel) as much as feelings or impressions. One that most often comes is that this spirit is amazing, wonderful, full of light, etc. It’s a bit like tasting the feeling God would have about this person. 

      The patriarch, however, then always “maps” the impressions onto his own language, gospel framing, ways of thinking, mythic elements that convey neat things to that patriarch. Thus a PB that effuses about valiancy before mortality is one who very likely is someone who thinks about pre-mortality a lot, loved being told when he was young that he was valiant in the war in heaven, etc, so when he’s in a section of the blessing where he’s trying to convey God’s love and the strength he’s feeling about this person’s spirit, he maps it onto this larger mythic structure. The key thing is conveying “you are loved, you are strong, you have so much to give the world”; if it’s put onto the pre-earth framing or not is totally secondary. I’m sure however Richard conveys those kinds of impressions in the blessings he gives are wonderful without the pre-earth story being part of it.

      From my own experiences giving blessings, I really “get” what he’s saying about the nature of what “comes.” It’s almost never in language; almost always simple “all at once” bursts of something that from patience in one’s mind and a bit of practice you can learn to give voice to. But the actual words are never as important as that something of the power of the impression can add a bit of energy into the moment and possibly be of help or comfort. On some occasions a really great word or intriguing word or phrase will make it out of one’s mouth, and it can be a great things when it “sticks” for a person under your hands (or in the case of a PB, when the person is slowly reading and pondering and reaching deep for puzzling out something), but it’s the person for whom the blessing is for that does the real work of discernment. 

      Anyway, what does all this mean about pre-78 blessings for blacks? I have no data, but my guess is there wasn’t a lot of declaring about pre-earth valiancy, but being PLENTY of conveying of how much this soul is loved and how wonderful and strong and great they are. Why no pre-earth framing? Only, I think, because of the unfortunate idea in the culture that still affects/INfects too many members’ thinking: that black skin was somehow tied to pre-earth valiancy. Pure bullshit, but unless a patriarch at that time had been really extraordinarily sensitive to that issue and wrestled with it and fought for understanding from God about that connection and learned it was so unfounded, he naturally would have believed it just like most Mormons of his time (or, more likely, the time when he was younger and these ideas got in their from the cultural waters he was swimming in and therefore got really “grooved” in him and simply became something “assumed” and never examined fresh) and therefore not chosen that story to use in framing the love/support/you’re incredible message. Doesn’t disqualify the patriarch from being a wonderful conduit for blessing people with real sensibilities gleaned from God simply because he has some bad ideas (gotten honestly and through a natural imbibing without really realizing that what is coming into our minds is wrong–and exactly like I believe most of the bad ideas we all have kicking around in our brains have come into our ways of framing various things). 

      Make any sense? My two cents, anyway.  

      • UnderCover Brother
        January 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

        Makes sense to me, Dan. Thanks for your response.

  19. Anonymous
    January 19, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    With regard to a literal interpretation of Patriarchal blessings implying immaturity…

    Since such blessings are personal scripture, would not this view extend to literal interpretations of general scripture?  Is it immature to believe that Adam and Eve were actual people?  That Noah and family rode out a flood in an ark? That a resurrected Jesus appeared in person?  

    What constitutes mature Mormon belief?  Need we only listen to the GAs to judge for ourselves whether their beliefs reveal their maturity or immaturity?

    And how is it that such “mature” members can, with such alacrity, carve out such spaces of diminished expectations with respect to spiritual gifts – especially when commissioned to exercise them?

    It seems that the LDS Church delivers a religious program that allows members be as immature as it needs them to be – a pragmatic approach given that one need not be mature to earn a decent income.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Slightly too cynical for my taste, but I actually agree a ton of what you say here! 

      Yes, the key point about personally interpreting extends to everything–and this, I believe, is what Richard said, as well. WE must learn to work with God’s words ourselves, whether in the standard works or patriarchal blessings, or personal revelation. And our early decisions about /encounters with them are never to be taken as final. We all know that knowledge even in things like mathematics builds on and sometimes even seems to contradict what we had thought earlier–but that earlier stage was vital nevertheless. Visit, live a bit, revisit, live some more, revisit. . . . Forever.
      So does that mean that the church set us up to stay immature, to never examine for ourselves literal interpretations of the Flood and Adam and Eve and the Resurrection? Yes, to a great extent. At the level of cultural discourse in Mormonism, literalness reigns. Perhaps it’s because the church’s general messages are meant to be understandable by people at all ages, life and educational backgrounds, biographies that include being raised without a ton of guidance in terms of basic values, perhaps without much overarching narratives to help one feel oriented, etc. Perhaps it’s because as an institution with a need to perpetuate itself the quick and most effective way to get things done is to “rally the base,” appeal to the center–which center is usually wanting THE truth, THE way and not a lot of nuance. Perhaps it is that fear and worry about “salvation” are damn effective motivators to help someone move away from some really dangerous edge. I can think of a ton of reasons to be sympathetic to the challenges of running a huge institution and seeing, at least in part, why the message level would be so literalistic. (I want MORE modeling of the more mature ways of seeing; less “either this exact way or completely false” dichotomies, but I’m still not ready to throw out all of general conference as being worth engaging because of bad rhetoric like that.)BUT the gospel points to a hell of a lot more than literal interpretations. Lots of general conference messages do, as well. When one is ready to hear, when one is centered in a real desire to grow and become more than just a “child” who does things because he’s told to by a parent he loves and into a more adult relationship with God (we are called, after all, to ultimately be the brides to God as bridegroom–to be in a relationship of equals), there are plenty of invitations all around. And I don’t know anyone who starts into this process that doesn’t begin to see a ton of the things the stories say as far more powerful when seen as metaphors, allegories, “pointers toward” deep truths rather than the truths themselves. They get far more wonderful and “true” the less we see them as somehow capturing an entire ocean of meaning in feeble words with them having nothing more to teach us beyond the level that a twelve year old could tell the story.You say it’s with alacrity that “mature” members carve out diminished expectations. That’s where I totally disagree. To whatever degree I might be one of those who you are seeing as very cheerfully kissing goodbye to expectations that things like patriarchal blessings or scriptural stories are something really, really special, know that for me at least, know that how it feels to me is NOTHING LIKE “diminished expectations” for those things but rather far deeper appreciation for them. (If I’m cheerful, it’s because I’m joyful.) They become conduits for my OWN experiences in the spiritual realms from which the stories got their original power. These stories and scriptures are framings that are so sparse that I HAVE TO FILL IN THE DETAILS MYSELF, so I go to God or enter in quieter states of mind or more contemplative spaces, and they begin to really come alive. So know that it doesn’t feel at all to me like loss. Only gain. But, yep, the church, like every organization, centers its discourse where the bulk of those it serves live in terms of their understandings and/or what they “need” to hang in there and be positively oriented/moved to something better. But this centering of discourse doesn’t mean that what the church based on, that the spirit and energies that caused it to take some strong root in the first place, aren’t there ready to be tapped when anyone decides to really give it a whirl. It’s fun to refer to Nietzsche in a religious setting: BECOME GODS YOURSELVES! The gospel is pointing you toward it. Let the church be training ground and formidable opponent to wrestle with. At some point–at least from my own experience–you’ll be extremely grateful for all the energies pulling at you from the church and its members. At some point, those voices that seem to be saying “stay down here with us,” “you’re wrong to be wandering away from the safety of where you were when you were happy with us” will turn into voices that far more often seem to say “thank you for helping me see a trail ahead; thank you for teaching or modelings something more.” And in return, you’ll end up feeling deep gratitude in reverse: “Thank you for teaching me so much about myself, about love, about how it’s so easy to forget that pure desires and a quest for being good and true and steady in loving what is worthy are far more important that being right about history or what is or isn’t mythic/literal,” etc. 

      • Anonymous
        January 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm

        Thanks for your reply Dan,

        I can respect your personal approach.   I was addressing the broader membership. When I referred to “carving out a space of diminished expectations” I was referring precisely to what Dr. Bushman was talking about – i.e.  members shouldn’t expect literal miraculous fulfillment (even though the institution breeds this expectation) 

        I regret attaching the clause “given that one need not be mature to earn a decent income.” That WAS too cynical, but only as as stand alone reason for the “LDS Church deliver[ing] a religious program that allows members to be as immature…”  You addressed this and I agree the reasons go beyond just money.  But I do suspect this is part of a pragmatic institutional calculus even if it rides quietly beneath more sublime rationalizations.

        I started listening again… I got through the first 20 minutes when other “duties” called.  I’ll get back to it.  There are parts I want to listen more carefully to.

        But in the meantime, I must say that in that first 20 minutes I found Dr. Bushman’s initial statements worrisome in light of my own experience and in the apparent experiences of many others.  I think he side-stepped the points Jared brought up.    

        I find something unsettling aboutDr. Bushman’s rhetoric.  I cannot quite put my finger on it.  It’s almost as if he places himself above the Church…a subtle sense that he won’t “own” it – even as he exercises one of the most sacred priesthood duties which involves pronouncing Israelite linages of all things (whether literal or not there still must be a bsis of distinguishing one from another – and who said it was metaphorical?).  

        Please don’t take this as a final judgement – I just get this slippery vibe every time I listen to him.  I do not think he deserves the amount of adulation seem to bestow on him.

        Let me just state why I am feeling so skeptical (if not cynical) about this whole PB business.  

        Here’s how the thing seems to work.:

        First, the patriarch makes statements (blessings) based on more or less information about the person and some are clearly framed as future predictions.  For years and years this was their intended interpretation – quite unambiguous.

        If this was a the psychic reading one might look for cold reading techniques in the pre-blessing interview or other sources of background information. For instance, did the Patriarch who pronounced that Dr. Bushman’s niece would be a “healer” know that she was very smart and know of her parents hopes medical school?  Such prior knowledge could be arrived at honestly and unconsciously.  Social intuitions and thoughts that “pop” up on subconscious knowledge can be indistinguishable from the “inspiration.”

        Second, out of the many points of counsel and predictions there will almost certainly be some hits and misses.   Many of the “hits” are the result of the fact that they are positive (flattering) and so general they broadly apply.  This is how attributes associated with the signs of the zodiac work. Or the chances are good that a person will get married in the temple and have “children” (more than 1 child). 

        What are the consequences of this?

        1. The PB gets credit for the hits.  Faith is affirmed… good feelings about a life of purpose and meaning attached to the church is reinforced.  A big payoff for a good bet.. especially when…

        2. Confirmation bias discounts the misses.

        3. And if confirmation bias doesn’t resolve the misses, then a hedge does. Consider the end of my PB.

        “Now these blessings … are contingent upon your obeying each and every one of your Heavenly Fathers commandments, and upon your serving Him with all your strength, mind and might and upon your enduring to the end of your days.”

        Of course, what does this do to the person with marginal self-confidence or self-esteem?    This makes faith in the Church and faith in yourself a zero sum game, at least potentially.  And this is stacked in favor of the Church.

        4.  Finally, as was promoted by Bushman and you, if  points 1, 2 and 3 do not work in favor of the Church, then it becomes the responsibility of the member to…

        (a) come to the realization that they were being immature in their literalistic expectations and that they “got to” (Bushman’s words) embark on continual reinterpretation for the rest of their life.  

        In other words the burden falls on the member to resolve every new experience of cognitive dissonance between his or her current interpretation of the PB in a way that preserves its inspired status.  That is, they have to force their reality to fit this transcribed utterances.

        The PB becomes an unfalsifiable.  Given that Bushman admits that Patriarchs are imperfect … well… I hope you can you at least understand the potential for the psychological harm that Bushman himself witnessed.

        If Bushman had any real integrity – if he really owned his opinions about PB – he should write an open letter to the Brethren on the matter.  Otherwise he is simply carving out a private unorthodox interpretive space of diminished,expectations with respect to the traditional meaning of the PB.

  20. Guest
    January 20, 2012 at 2:22 am

    I paused at about 55 minutes to think about what Mr. bushamn said about the ten tribes “reconstructing” and that not being outside of our Doctrine. A nice thought but what are we to do about the 10th article of faith where it talks about a literal gathering and a restoration in America?

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:54 am

      Right, remember he also affirmed the scriptures that clearly presuppose the Lost Tribes are all gathered together, writing their own scriptures, and will be restored before the Second Coming.

  21. Anonymous
    January 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I think that “framing” a PB as device to keep people firmly embedded in an institution provides some insight into its implicit function.

    To explore this, I went back to my own PB and I broke down the “blessings” into four categories. I list them below. All are quoted or very closely paraphrased. I have included ALL of them except my entitlement to the blessings of Ephraim.

    Notice the relative numbers in each category.  I have capitalized the few that stand on their own merits – those not requiring a Patriarch, or anyone else, to validate.  

    Blessings of Knowledge (mostly of Church doctrine):  “I bless you with the knowledge that …”

    1. Jesus is the Christ and my elder brother.
    2. Jesus died for me.
    3. Only through him can I gain exaltation and complete joy and happiness.
    4. I was once a “choice” [pre-mortal] spirit..
    5. I was held to “come forth” at a time the Gospel was restored.
    6. I had a pre-mortal understanding that I would have the opportunity to accept the Gospel.
    7. He is pleased that I was baptized.
    8. He wants to give me many blessings.
    9. He loves me.
    10. my Church callings are what Heavenly Father wants you to do.
    11. the path to returning to your Heavenly Father is a straight and narrow one.

    Blessings of doing things (mostly for the Church):  “I bless you that you will…”

    1. study the scriptures.
    2. hearken unto the prophets.
    3. have many opportunities to serve Heavenly father.
    4. be called to many positions, leadership and missionary
    5. seek Heavenly Father’s counsel.
    6. accomplish the things He would have you accomplish.
    7. keep yourself pure and holy.
    8. prepare for a temple marriage.
    9. hearken to the counsel of your priesthood leaders.
    10. be able to serve your Heavenly Father with all of your strength, mind and might.
    11. accomplish the things he would have you accomplish.
    12. always magnify your callings.
    13. always magnify your priesthood.
    14. be a righteous patriarch in your home.
    15. lead your family in righteousness.
    18. teach your children things your Heavenly Father wants them to know.
    19. teach your children to obey Heaven Father’s commandments.
    21. go to the house of the Lord to be sealed to your wife.
    22. understand the sacred covenants and live up to them
    23. live righteously so to be able to obtain “the many blessings that were given to Ephraim.”
    24. always select righteous companions
    26. share the Gospel with others and the joy you have found in this
    27. set your goals high and try to achieve great things in your career.
    28. listen to that still small voice that will warn you in times of danger
    29. take corrective steps to avoid harm to yourself and to your family
    30. always remember [the eternal rewards of ]keeping the commandments

    Blessings of power to do things (mostly for the Church): “I bless you with…”

    1. The power of the priesthood.
    2. The power to magnify your callings
    3. The power to heal and preach

    Blessings of personal benefit (mostly tied to the Church):  “I bless you…”

    1. will find a “sweet spirit” to take to that the temple.
    2. will set up a righteous posterity (as you keep the commandments)
    3. that your faith will not waiver.
    5. that you shall not suffer the necessities of life
    6. that you will have temporal success
    7. that can withstand the onslaughts of the adversary
    8. with the strength to endure to the end with

    Finally, the Patriarch sealed all this with this heavy qualification:

    “Now these blessings … are contingent upon your obeying each and every one of your Heavenly Fathers commandments, and upon your serving Him with all your strength, mind and might and upon your enduring to the end of your days.

  22. ricke
    January 24, 2012 at 3:31 am

    One suggestion: when you have someone of Richard Bushman’s caliber on your show, I think it would be best not to leave him listening on the phone while someone else provides background information. As much as I appreciate the insights of the two interviewers, it was Richard Bushman’s perspective on this topic that I wanted to hear. Perhaps any background information you feel is necessary for the general audience could be given before you put a guest like Richard on the air.

  23. ML
    January 25, 2012 at 1:09 am

    I had a really interesting maybe “the truth isn’t always useful” moment today. I work at a jail, and part of my job is meeting with inmates before they’re released to talk about their plans and provide as much practical information as I can so they can hit the ground running. This morning I met with a young woman (about 21) who has been in and out of detention and jail for 10 years. Her story goes back to being sexually assaulted when she was 9 and lots of subsequent substance abuse, etc. Anyway, she told me that she and her boyfriend have decided to get on a different track, aiming for temple marriage. Then she started talking about getting her patriarchal blessing and that she’s sure the second coming is coming soon because someone she knows has a patriarchal blessing that says she’ll be alive when it happens. I flashed back to this podcast, and realized I had absolutely no inclination to break her momentum. She’s at this really critical point in her life where hope and faith are going to serve her well. In fact, it may be the only thing that can help her change the course of her life. And since I don’t really know anything about if/when there’ll be a second coming, what would be the point of setting the record straight for her?

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 25, 2012 at 2:31 am

      Love it, ML. Thanks! Definitely, IMO, the right (non)response. Sending every good hope for huge successes ahead for this woman.

  24. Teri
    January 25, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Because patriarchy represents so much of what is wrong with the church IMO, it’s pretty hard to get very excited about a patriarchal blessing. Early in the podcast Richard Bushman mentioned that most patriarchs have served as Bishops, Stake Presidents, Temple workers, etc which gives them experience in receiving revelation for others so they are familiar with how to receive information from God. This just reminded me me of how inequitable a woman’s church experience is compared to a man’s.

    I don’t really like the idea that “Gods” would prefer to give information about my life to some man rather than just communicate directly with me. In addition, my blessing doesn’t really say anything at all.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      Your comment is similar to Beatrice’s above, where all I felt I could respond with was sympathy and a hope that any woman who is feeling this way will give herself permission to get that direct communication from God themselves, to step in and claim it as their right. Be one of the trailblazers who can teach others and help prepare the way (by already working with God in this way) for easier transitioning for other women when priesthood is opened to them. All my best!

  25. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Great episode. I was really surprised to hear about the form letter versions of PBs. That would’ve totally crushed me as a youth if I’d discovered this uber special revelation tailored just for me was also given to x number of other people..

    I would have liked a little more discussion about what members are supposed to make of unfulfilled promises when those promises are said to be dependent upon their worthiness and faithfulness. Unfortunately the blessing then becomes a source of personal shame, doesn’t it? In the worst case a perfectly righteous person will end up feeling that they have not met God’s expectations.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Agree, hoost. We should have done more there. Thanks. MM did do an episode on guilt and shame a few months ago. If you haven’t heard that one, I hope you will. For me, one of the better discussions we’ve ever had on the show: shame (at least the toxic type where one internalizes some failure to do something as making themselves feel unworthy of God’s love, etc.) is never from God.

  26. Anonymous
    January 30, 2012 at 12:23 am

  27. Anonymous
    January 30, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Thanks for your reply Dan,

    With respect to my comment about Dr. Bushman “carving out a space of diminished expectations,” and your thoughtful  reply ….

    I can respect your personal approach.  But I was addressing the broader membership when I referred to this “diminished expectations.”   That is, I was referring precisely to what Dr. Bushman was talking about – i.e.  members shouldn’t expect literal miraculous fulfillment (even though the institution breeds this expectation).  In other words, I was reacting to how he seemed to suggest that dismissing literal interpretations should be as valid FOR OTHERS as it was for him.  I think that I was feeling the same way Jared did when he asked him to acknowledge the literalness of PB prophesies as the traditional orthodox expectation.

    I regret attaching the clause “given that one need not be mature to earn a decent income.”  That WAS too cynical, but only as the single reason for the “LDS Church deliver[ing] a religious program that allows members to be as immature as it needs them to be.”  You addressed this and I agree the reasons go beyond just money.  But I do suspect this is part of a pragmatic institutional calculus even if it rides quietly beneath more sublime rationalizations.

    I started listening again… I got through the first 20 minutes when other “duties” called.  I’ll get back to it.  There are parts I want to listen more carefully to.

    But in the meantime, I must say that in that first 20 minutes I found Dr. Bushman’s initial statements worrisome in light of my own experience and in the apparent experiences of many others as described.  I think he side-stepped the points Jared brought up.   

    I find something unsettling about Dr. Bushman’s rhetoric, both in this podcast and others.  I cannot quite put my finger on it.  It’s almost as if he places himself above the Church… a subtle distancing and a sense that he won’t “own” it – even as he exercises one of the most sacred priesthood duties which includes the extraordinary pronouncement of Israelite linage (whether this is literal or metaphoric there is still supposed to be a revelatory basis of discrimination). 

    But please don’t take this as my final judgment – it is just that I get this slippery vibe every time I listen to him.  I do not think he deserves the amount of adulation you and others seem to bestow on him. His academic scholarship should be set aside and his words on “Mormon matters” should stand on their own.  I am not impressed with his ideas or positions – though I CAN name some faithful members who do impress me.

    Let me try to outline why I am feeling so skeptical (if not cynical) about this whole PB business.  I ask only that you step out of your personal perspective for a moment.

    Here’s how the thing seems to work.:

    First, the patriarch makes statements based on more or less information about the person.  Significant numbers of these are framed as future predictions.  For years and years this was their explicit intended interpretation.  Members have been and continue to be set up for this expectation.

    Now, if these were psychic readings one might look for “cold” or “warm” reading techniques in the pre-blessing interview, or other sources of background information. For instance, did the Patriarch who pronounced that Dr. Bushman’s niece would be a “healer” know that she was very smart and know of that her parents had hopes for her medical education?  Such prior knowledge could be arrived at honestly and unconsciously.  Social intuitions and latent knowledge can “pop” up from the subconscious and might be indistinguishable from perceptions of “inspiration.”  Some “inspiration” can be simply a false intuition as “imperfect” people would be apt to have.  This is in keeping with Dr. Bushman’s model.

    Second, given so many points of counsel and prediction there will almost certainly be some hits along with misses.   Many of the “hits” would be the result of quite general  positive attributions or characteristic weaknesses we all need to consider.  This is how attributes associated with the signs of the zodiac work for everyone inclined to believe them.  Also, the chances are good that a person will accomplish the standard Mormon life experiences, such as temple marriage and having “children” (more than 1 child).   Most prophesies have high probabilities, especially given the self-selected group who get blessings.

    So what are the consequences of this?

    1. The PB gets credit for the hits.  Faith is affirmed… good feelings about a life of purpose and meaning “framed” by the Church is reinforced. 

    2. Confirmation bias discounts the misses.  This bias EXTENDS TO OTHER PEOPLES’ HITS when they bear testimony of them. There is an amplification mechanism – and people generally do not share their misses.

    3. Predictions have no clear statutes of limitations.  They can just hang there nearly indefinitely without failing. 

    4. If confirmation bias doesn’t resolve the misses, then a PB hedge does. Consider the end of my PB.

    “Now these blessings … are contingent upon your obeying each and every one of your Heavenly Fathers commandments, and upon your serving Him with all your strength, mind and might and upon your enduring to the end of your days.”

    This almost insures that none of my personal prophesies need come true.

    Of course, this points to a big problem … harmful psychological manipulation.  What does this do to the person with marginal self-confidence or self-esteem?  For such a person her faith in the Church versus her faith herself is a zero sum game that is completely stacked in favor of the Church.  Guilt and shame.

    4.  Finally, as Bushman and you promoted, if  points 1, 2 and 3 do not work in favor of the Church, then it becomes the member’s responsibility to come to the realization that they were being immature in their literalistic expectations and that they “got to” (Bushman’s words) embark on continual reinterpretation for the rest of their life.

    In other words the burden falls on the member to resolve every new experience of cognitive dissonance between her current interpretation of her PB and her current life experience IN A WAY THAT PRESERVES THE INSPIRED STATUS OF THE PB.  Dan, while you may find this a meaningful life program,for others it can mean they are haunted their entire life by dusty utterances that the Church has encouraged to give near idol status.

    Think about it.  If a prediction seemed to come true, would a person bother reinterpreting their way out of it?

    This system makes the PB unfalsifiable – pretty much like everything else in religion – it is “the great secret” (OK, I’m getting too cynical again). 

    But given that Bushman admits that Patriarchs are imperfect … well…on that basis, perhaps they just don’t deserve reinterpretation, particularly if one is not equipped with an advanced education.   Maybe the Church should give them a little slack?

    But institutions do not know how to gracefully admit mistakes – to show love like one person can give to another – they see it as a slippery slope and take the Utilitarian route, or is it institutional preservation route (oops, I went cynical again).   But seriously, this is the  dark side of setting up an unfalsifiable system.

    I hope you can you at least understand the psychological harm that Bushman himself witnessed.   

    If Bushman had integrity – in my opinion at least – he would more fully own his opinions about the PB – He could do this by writing an open letter to the Brethren on this matter restating what he stated here.  Otherwise he is carving out a private interpretive space of diminished expectations. 

    Finally, what also bothers me is that even as he calls for this diminished expectation by calling literalistic interpretations immature, in the next breath he stated explicitly that it is OK for members to continue to speak and think this way (when Jared gently challenged him on this).


  28. February 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this podcast.  Thank you so much!!

  29. February 6, 2012 at 1:20 am

    RE: Valiancy in the premortal life

    I must say I was very surprised that anyone familiar with the circumstances of Christ’s birth as well as Joseph Smith’s childhood (which I thought all Church members would be) would list a person’s earthly circumstances as pertaining to the country they were born in or their family’s religion or affluence as any kind of indication of that person’s premortal valiancy. 

    Also, to imply that if you were born to a non-LDS family means you were less valiant, is a direct insult to Joseph Smith and all the pioneers – modern or ancient.  If anything, it makes more sense that the Lord would place the stronger spirits in such circumstances knowing they would recognize and accept the gospel regardless.

    I’m glad that this was more or less dismissed by the panel but it is concerning that this was presented as somewhat common way of thinking aka “mormon cast system”. 

    We are told that we progressed in the premortal life and some progressed more than others. We are also told that whatever amount of knowledge we gather in this life, will give us that much the advantage in the next. I just don’t know where one would get the notion that those things are measurable by geographical location or parents’ faith or bank accounts – especially with examples of the total opposite glaring from every scripture – including the one whose Church this is – Jesus Christ.

  30. Will
    February 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

    What do you make of “Your husband will be with you when you get your endowments?” and her going on a mission and meeting her husband for the first time there?  

    Got an eternal perspective on that one?  To me that just sounds dead wrong.  And if it was trumped by agency then why is that in the blessing at all and what’s the point of anything being in a blessing?  

    Having seen that I’m pretty sure that patriarchal blessings are vague horoscopes that thrive in ambiguity and are only useful or ‘fulfilled’ in retrospect seems to describe what I’m seeing, which makes them completely pointless as ‘prophecy’.  I could always apologeticize my way out of anything in a patriarchal blessing before, but reading and seeing that one firsthand did me in.  

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      I can’t see a ton of difference, Will, between these and “be alive when Christ returns” ones. In all the cases, I see Bushman’s claims about what prophecy is and is not to be pertinent. And in this case, I think the discussion near the end about valiancy in the pre-earth life relates to the kinds of specifics you mention. Patriarchs bring a lot with them into the blessings and general impressions often get mapped onto those frameworks.

      It’s not so much a matter of “eternal perspective” on these sorts of statements but the realities of how humans interact with the spirit, even ones with special callings and lots of practice at trying to discern the messaging. It isn’t an easy thing. We’ll be doing an episode in a couple of weeks where we really work at spirit vs emotion/desires/biases and how it all plays out.

      • HS
        October 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm

        Recently, I have started listening to several episodes of Mormon Matters podcasts. I wouldn’t call myself going through a “faith crisis” since I’m not entirely sure what that really means, but rather just experiencing some incredibly difficult challenges that cause me to refine what I believe. Patriarchal Blessings are something I am trying to understand more. In my experience, MY blessing has been a source of great comfort and spiritual communication to ME. It would be easier to just leave my experience there, and not push and try to understand PB more deeply, but then where is the growth? My teenage son died recently in a tragic accident and when I read his PB shortly after he passed away, it just appeared as a bunch of unmet promises and (now) unattainable spiritual and physical blessings. I appreciate this podcast and the challenge is has given me to revisit my previous interpretation of his PB and try to understand it with an increased maturity and look for further spiritual communication. Fantastic dialogue, even through the comments. Thank you.

  31. Cliff Broome
    September 21, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    I have just listened to the Patriarchal Blessing podcast and found it very informative. I am a Patriarch called about 8 years ago. When called, I begged my Stake President to allow me to read some blessings from former Patriarchs, but this was not given because he did not have any on hand. I was given a quick look at a couple of recent blessings from a Patriarch from a neighbouring stake, I have read my blessing and my wife’s and of my six children I have only seen two of their blessings. As a Bishop I recommended many people for their Blessings but never read one afterwards—-it just did not seem right to ‘pry’ into the conversation between a person and the Lord —– like unrighteous ‘eavesdropping’ or something like that. Another Patriarch that I know told me he requested a visiting General Authority ‘call’ a meeting of all the Patriarchs in the region for a little spiritual ‘get-together’ as it may be profitable or uplifting. The answer … “NO WAY .. you guys are not going to work by consensus, you must seek you own inspiration and revelations for your candidates.” Therefore every blessing I have given has been a ‘stand alone’ thing and based upon my experience, my thoughts and my understanding of the scriptures. I do not have a ‘template’ as such and have to consciously ‘think’ to include the lineage—-which is necessary in every blessing. I do have a rather long (too long according to my wife) talk with the candidates to encourage them in their life, in the Gospel and to read their blessing often to try and understand the deeper layers (the meanings and feelings behind the words of the blessing). This layer will be revealed upon frequent reading, sincere prayer about one’s life and goals and a desire to ‘hear’ what Father in Heaven is conveying in the blessing). I recently re-read the very first blessing I gave in my very anxious state eight years ago and I found it to be refreshing, complete within itself, encouraging and very suitable for the candidate. I had placed myself completely in the Lord’s hands and I’d say he delivered and that first candidate got a blessing that was not the composition of an inexperienced Patriarch, but a real message from a loving and concerned Heavenly Father. It was not showing any weak, inexperience or underdeveloped ideas … it was more or less a conversation from the Lord to dear friend that was conveyed by me (the Patriarch) —– or In a word I would be pleased if it was my blessing. I have never overcome the feelings of inadequacy, smallness, complete exposure of one’s abilities that come each time I am called upon to bless a person. I always fast (except a few times when I felt physically weak). It is a very sobering thought to realise what ‘one’ puts on paper will be carried close to the recipient’s heart for a lifetime, relied upon for guidance, loved and regarded as an intimate part of their persona, relied upon during important occasions for decisions (including where to live, kind of work or whom to marry etc) one of the most important or even ‘the’ most influential scripture that they will ever read AND then one day I will stand alone before the Lord and admit “Yes I did that I gave that person that message that I said was from you and I stand behind all that I conveyed to that person at that time”. A key part of my own Blessing has been miraculously fulfilled when I initially thought there could be no possible way on earth to test if that particular part ever came to pass—I was wrong … it did come to pass after 35 years and in a way I did not foresee, yet it is positively certain (all can see who know me) that it happened and it happened in a way that only could have been divinely manipulated AND done in a way that had to be organised 10 years before the observed outcome—I stand in all my smallness before the Divine Majesty and give my testimony as an imperfect Patriarch that each Patriarchal Blessing is for the recipient only and it from their concerned Father in Heaven.

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