Are Patriarchal Blessings "A Star to Follow"?
It’s tough living in a fallen world. It’s hard to confidently choose our steps and make good life decisions, for we live in a culture of boundless possibilities. How often we think, “If I only knew the future I would know what to do.” Mormonism provides its members an answer to this dilemma. Through the LDS Church office of ordained Stake Patriarch, every Mormon can know his or her future. Consider this real-life example.
In 1962 Olive and George Osmond’s talented sons did very well singing at church and for civic groups. An opportunity arose for the Osmond Brothers to appear on national television, but Olive was uncomfortable with the idea. “I would sure feel better about this,” she told her husband, “if a couple more of our children were to get their patriarchal blessings.” So Alan (12) and Wayne (10) went to receive their blessings. Olive reported, "We came home and started packing our suitcases. We sensed the importance of it, because they were told certain things that were quite thrilling and have come true." Specifically, relates Osmond Brother Merrill, "we would travel all over the world as brothers performing and open the doors for [LDS] missionaries" (Church News, week ending August 28, 1993, p.7).
Since very early in the history of the LDS Church Mormons have had the option of receiving their “patriarchal blessings.” LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson once explained, “A patriarchal blessing is a revelation to the recipient, even a white line down the middle of the road to protect, inspire, and motivate activity and righteousness. A patriarchal blessing literally contains chapters from your book of eternal possibilities...[It] is your passport to peace in this life. It is a Liahona of light to guide you unerringly to your heavenly home” (Ensign, November 1986, pp.66-67). Late LDS Apostle James E. Faust said one’s patriarchal blessing is “a star to follow” (Ensign, November 1995, p.63).
Past, Present and Future
A typical Mormon patriarchal blessing tells the recipient about three things: his past, his present, and his future.
Regarding the past, the patriarch declares the recipient’s “lineage in the house of Israel.” Most Mormons are told that they come from the Old Testament tribe of Ephraim; these are the people to whom Mormonism says leadership of the "Latter-day work" has been committed (LDS Apostle John A. Widtsoe, quoted in Ensign, November 2002, p.44).
Regarding the present, the patriarch typically declares that the recipient has "goodly parents," adding, perhaps, that he is talented, he is strong, and he is faithful.
Finally, the patriarch tells the Mormon what lies ahead. Pronouncements might include things such as future LDS missionary service, college, marriage in the temple, high Church callings (i.e., positions in the Church), a passel of children who will all be faithful to the LDS gospel, ever-increasing priesthood power, and eventual exaltation.
The LDS patriarch might also give instruction as part of the blessing. For example, a Latter-day Saint from Nashville, Tennessee was told in his 1991 patriarchal blessing, “The Lord would make of you a mighty cathedral. But the size of that cathedral will be dependent upon the strength of the foundation, and it is on your mission that that foundation shall be made. Therefore, do and do and do again.”
Another Latter-day Saint in California was counseled through her blessing, “Take time to realize the beauties of the earth around you, the plants, the flowers and the beautiful things we have here. If we are to become Gods and Goddesses and to have the opportunity of being able to create a world, then we should know the things that are in this world and learn them so that it will help us in our progression after we leave this existence.”
Mormons take their patriarchal blessings very seriously and make life choices based on what their blessings promise. They are taught to regard their blessings as their own “personal scripture” (Julie B. Beck, Ensign, May 2006, p.107) to be read, studied and relied upon as "a power in our lives;...an anchor in stormy days” (Old Testament Student Manual, Genesis – 2 Samuel, p.100). “When we know who we are and what we are supposed to do,” Julie Beck told the young women of the LDS Church, “it is easier to make important decisions about education, careers, and marriage” (Ensign, May 2006, p.107).
While the promises given in LDS patriarchal blessings may be empowering, every Mormon knows, “If you are not faithful, you cannot count on your blessing being fulfilled” (Julie B. Beck, Ensign, May 2006, p.107).
According to Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe, “These blessings are possibilities predicated upon faithful devotion to the cause of truth. They must be earned. Otherwise they are but empty words... the patriarch only indicates the gifts the Lord would give us, if we labor for them. He helps us by pointing out the divine goal which we may enjoy if we pay the price” (Evidences and Reconciliations, p.323).
In the case of the Osmond Brothers, they worked hard, achieved world acclaim, and earned what they now regard as a fulfillment of their promised blessings. But not all LDS patriarchal blessings lend themselves to the appearance of fulfillment. Mormons who are troubled by this have been provided three explanations for the apparent failure of any given blessing.
The first rests on the recipient’s worthiness and dedication. If a blessing does not come true it may be because the Mormon has not worked hard enough or been faithful enough to merit it.
If a Mormon is faithful but still does not see a promised blessing, the second explanation kicks in. Latter-day Saints are reminded, “It should always be kept in mind that the realization of the promises made may come in this or the future life. Men have stumbled at times because promised blessings have not occurred in this life. They have failed to remember that, in the gospel, life with all its activities continues forever and that the labors of earth may be continued in heaven” (Widtsoe, quoted in Ensign, November 1995, p.64).
The third way Mormons are taught to deal with unfulfilled blessings is by employing a widely subjective interpretation of what the promised blessing actually entails. For example, LDS Apostle James E. Faust told of his father’s patriarchal blessing: “He was told in his blessing that he would be blessed with ‘many beautiful daughters.’ He and my mother became the parents of five sons. No daughters were born to them...” (Ensign, November 1995, p.64). However, Mr. Faust explained, these sons married women who became his father’s daughters-in-law. They in turn bore children, some of whom were girls, and these girls became granddaughters. As these granddaughters became mothers, they gave Mr. Faust’s father great-granddaughters. Mr. Faust said, “[T]he realization came to me that Father’s blessing literally had been fulfilled. He has, indeed, many beautiful daughters” (Ensign, November 1995, p.64).
Looking again at the Osmond's story, though their patriarchal blessings appeared to be specific and truly prophetic, they really were not. Circumstances were already in motion before the blessings were received that suggested a far-reaching performing career ahead for the brothers (i.e., an invitation to appear on The Andy Williams Show). But if their popularity had not taken off like a rocket, the promised blessing of travel and impact could still easily enough be interpreted as coming true. If they achieved a recording career, it could have been said that their records traveled all over the world. Or, they traveled all over the world via their appearance on a popular American television show. Or, they symbolically traveled all over the world as visitors to Utah saw the Osmonds perform locally and took word of the talented brothers back home. Or, they may have questioned the definition of the word "world" and redefined it to fit the circumstances. In actuality, the Osmonds' patriarchal blessings would have been understood as having been fulfilled no matter what.
Potent and Seductive
As mentioned earlier, President Monson indicated that a patriarchal blessing is intended to “motivate [LDS Church] activity.” It accomplishes this very well, and it’s no wonder. Through a man claiming to speak for God (Ensign, November 1995, p. 63), Mormons are given promises for successful, happy and fulfilling lives both on earth and throughout eternity – as long as they remain faithful members of the LDS Church.
A former Mormon summed up his own experience with his patriarchal blessing: “In retrospect, I now recognize in my patriarchal blessing a potent and seductive appeal to pride that was completely hidden from me at the time -- I was too giddy with the wine of my own potential. One of its key concepts is personal empowerment: power to rise high in the order of the priesthood, power to structure my own eternal life, power to restore my body to immortality, to be glorified, to receive my inheritance of all the blessings promised to the faithful, power to endure to the end. By contrast, the person and grace of Jesus Christ are conspicuous in their absence. There is no hint of unmerited favor here, only endowments of power contingent upon my worthiness” (Welcome All Wonders, J.A.C. Redford, p.51).
Indeed, Mormons must “do and do and do again.” They are taught that if they do, and only if they do, they will earn God’s promised blessings. As Thomas Monson stated in conference in April 2005, if a member hopes to receive help from their patriarchal blessing they must “Live to merit its promises” (Ensign, May 2005, p.114).
Like other aspects of Mormonism, patriarchal blessings misdirect people from the truth, binding them to a false belief system and a life of eternally useless striving.
The truth is this: We can’t pay the price; Jesus paid it all. He is our “passport to peace,” the “power in our lives,” and our “anchor in stormy days.” By His own glory and excellence He has granted to us His precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus is the star to follow--all the way home.
Patriarchal Blessings - A True Restoration?
By Lane Thuet
The patriarchal age in the Bible lasted from 2086 to 1871 BC. It included Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob's 12 sons (Ungers Bible Dictionary, pg. 967). One of the things associated with this period is the patriarchal blessing, given by these fathers to their children.
The LDS Church, which claims to be a restored version of the original church as set up by Christ, has also "restored" the practice of giving patriarchal blessings to its members. But is it truly a restoration of what the Bible teaches? Let's take a look.
To answer this question, we must first know what a patriarch is. The word patriarch is a combination of two Greek words - pater, meaning father; and arches, meaning beginning or origin (NAS Concordance, pp. 1674 and 1636). A patriarch, then, is the father who stands at the beginning of a family. This is exactly how it is used in the New Testament. It refers to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's 12 sons - the first fathers, or origin of the Nation of Israel. The only other person called a patriarch in the Bible is King David (Acts 2:29), who was the first father of the line of godly kings destined to sit on the throne over Israel.
Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, instituted the office of Patriarch in the LDS Church with his father Joseph Smith. Only one man had this office in the church at any time. As the church progressed, however, a lesser patriarchal office was created that included more and more men from each local area as the church grew. Today, there are around 2000 patriarchs - one for every Stake (region) in the LDS Church. One of the main duties of each regional patriarch is to give patriarchal blessings to the members of the LDS Church. The only difference between the two offices of patriarch is that the regional patriarchs are chosen without respect to their lineage, while the higher office of patriarch must be from the bloodline of Joseph Smith. The original office of Patriarch to the Church has only been held by six men since Joseph Smith, Sr., and has not been filled since Oct. 6, 1979 (Deseret News, 1997-1998; Church Almanac, p. 56).
In the Bible, the patriarchal custom was for the father to impart a blessing on his sons shortly before his death. These blessings were highly prophetic in nature and foretold the destiny of the child as well as the family line that would come through that child. The father usually reserved the most favorable blessing for the eldest son. Jacob, who was the second son of Isaac, tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for his brother, Esau (Gen. 27:1-29). When Esau then asked for his own blessing afterward, it was not as favorable as the blessing Jacob received. In fact, it was more like a curse than a blessing (Gen. 27:30-40). Nevertheless, both blessings were literally fulfilled. Jacob blessed his sons as well as Joseph's sons on his deathbed. These blessings not only foretold the future of each tribe but also exposed hidden sins the children were guilty of (Gen. 49:3-4). Each of these blessings were literally fulfilled in the lives and tribes of each son. David also spoke to his son, Solomon, on his deathbed, but this was more in the way of a warning and a charge than it was a blessing.
Patriarchal blessings in the LDS Church, however, are very different. To begin with, the blessing is not given on the patriarch's deathbed. Also, those who receive the blessings are almost never related to the Patriarch in any way. There are two main purposes to the Patriarchal Blessing in the LDS Church. The first is to provide an 'incentive' for the member to live according to LDS Gospel principles. The second is to declare lineage. The leaders of the LDS Church have consistently taught that members of their church are literally descendants of Israel (Mormon Doctrine pp. 389-390; Doctrines of Salvation 2:250-251; Journal of Discourses 2:268-269; A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, pp. 230-234; Doctrine and Covenants 64:34-36, 133:26-32). The patriarchal blessing reveals to its recipient which tribe they belong to - although it is nearly always identified as the Tribe of Ephraim.
The 10th President of the LDS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, said, "A blessing given by a Patriarch is intended to point out the path which the recipient should travel. It should be given by the spirit of revelation and should be a great comfort and incentive to the recipient to continue on in faithfulness to the end. The Patriarch also holds the key by which the lineage of those whom he blesses may be made known." (Doctrines of Salvation 3:170).
You can readily see the difference between the patriarchal blessings given in the Bible and those given in the LDS Church. First, in the Bible the recipient's father gave it. That is rarely true in Mormonism. Second, no lineage was given during the blessings in the Bible for they already knew what tribe they belonged to. Third, while some of the blessings in the Bible provided comfort, they didn't always - such as the case of Esau (Gen. 29:38-40) or Reuben (Gen. 49:3-4). The greatest difference, however, lies in the fact that the blessings given in the Bible all came true regardless of the actions of the recipient. In the Mormon Church, however, all prophetic blessings given are only said to be guaranteed if the recipient remains faithful to the LDS Church. Any blessing given which fails to come true, then, is blamed on a lack of faithfulness. This provides the 'insurance policy' for the myriad of blessings that have never come to pass. Regarding recipients of patriarchal blessings, Joseph Fielding Smith said that they "…may, if they prove faithful, enjoy whatever is pronounced upon (them)…" He goes on to say that, "To gain such blessings, however, all the ordinances and covenants belonging to the Gospel and to exaltation must by them be received." (Doctrines of Salvation 3:170, emphasis mine).
My own patriarchal blessing, given on May 2, 1983, promised me many blessings that never came true. However, the last paragraph states that these blessings are "possible," but that I must "work for its attainment" (Patriarchal Blessing of Lane Alan Thuet, given by Reed D. Andrew, blessing number 2081, pg. 3). In such cases, the patriarch is let off the hook for prophecies that are obviously not given by revelation from God.
Sometimes, these blessings even contradict other revelations given in the LDS Church. My own blessing provides one of these examples. My patriarchal blessing, given under the 'inspiration' of God, states very clearly that I am a direct descendant of Ephraim. However, since I ended up leaving the LDS Church, I am now considered one of the "rebellious" against God. According to Doctrine and Covenants 64:34-36, a 'revelation' from God to Joseph Smith, none of the rebellious are of the bloodline of Ephraim. So which one is correct? The blessing under 'inspiration' of God that says I am, or the 'revelation' of God that says I cannot possibly be?
Is this a true restoration? Not in any sense. The New Testament church set up by Christ never had any patriarchs. Those of the Old Testament are vastly different from those in the LDS Church today. The blessings are not alike, either. In addition to this, and in spite of the LDS leaders' teachings that all Mormons are true descendants of Israel, the fact remains that the vast majorities are not. Their attempt to claim Jewish lineage in the patriarchal blessings is nothing more than a sad hoax. In fact, it is because of controversy over this matter that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS), based in Independence, Mo., has discouraged declaring Jewish lineage in their blessings (Part Way to Utah, Paul Trask, pg. 44).
Like nearly everything else that Joseph Smith claimed to 'restore' to the earth, patriarchs and patriarchal blessings in his church do not line up with what has been clearly revealed in the Bible. Many Mormons place great emphasis and hope on the promises they are given in these blessings. When the promises fail to materialize, it could cause these people to lose their faith and hope in God altogether. Such feelings could be avoided if they would just follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul when he commanded us to, "Prove all things. Hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21).
As Christians we do not need to gain direction or promises from any formal 'blessing'. We get our direction from Scripture, which is also where we have our promises from God. Like the patriarchal blessings of old, the promises we have are not dependent on anything we do but are wholly dependent upon God for completion. It is for this reason that we can stand assured that all of what God has promised will come to pass. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:13, even "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for he cannot deny Himself."