I Have a Question

Rita L. McMinn


Questions of general gospel interest—answered for general guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

I am the parent of three teenagers, and the matter of Church dress and grooming standards comes up continually. What can I tell them that will help them to understand why the Church places such importance on personal appearance?

There are very few teenagers who are not conscious of personal appearance. They are perhaps more conscious of personal appearance than many adults. That is why it is so important that they understand why the Church and their parents feel strongly that their dress and grooming meet certain standards.

Dress and grooming have not always filled a greater purpose than simple warmth and modesty. In earlier times nearly everybody wore the same thing, not out of choice, but out of necessity. But for the kings and their courts, dress indicated rank, wealth, and position. What you wore told everyone who looked at you just where you fit into the social structure.

Today when we dress by choice and not out of necessity, the same rule holds true. We dress in order to tell others something about ourselves. Society tends to associate certain kinds of dress with identifiable social groups—policemen, brides, or rock musicians, a clear case of nonverbal communication. If we don’t want to be identified with the group, we shouldn’t wear the uniform. An easy example: if we want to be identified as missionaries, then we dress like missionaries.

The Church leaders have long recognized that dress and grooming are among the most effective ways of communication. That is why they desire Church members to be identified with some groups and not with others.

If dress communicates to others, it also communicates to ourselves. By the way we dress we are indicating what we think of ourselves. Our choice of dress even goes so far as to influence our behavior.

One simple example of behavior being influenced by dress is noted by the fact that you don’t dress the same way for a picnic as you do for a wedding reception. If you wore a suit or a fancy dress to a picnic, the opportunities for fun would be severely limited.

Another example is to watch the behavior of a Cub Scout the moment he puts on his uniform. The little boy grows to fill his uniform because he feels responsible to honor it.

In his book, A Quest for Excellence (Bookcraft, Inc., 1967), Elder Sterling W. Sill observes: “A letdown in personal appearance has far more than physical significance, for when ugliness gets its roots into one part of our lives, it may soon spread to every other part.”

It has been said that “we are what we eat,” but also true is the statement “we are what we wear”—not in terms of money, or having the latest attire, but in terms of radiating what we really are and how we really feel about ourselves.

After Edward Partridge was called to be a bishop there were others who were called to be bishops. Did the Lord call Bishop Partridge to be a presiding bishop?

The answer might seem obvious to students of Church history, who would immediately reply that yes, Edward Partridge was the first presiding bishop of the Church. Church histories have indicated that he became presiding bishop in 1831 and served until his death in 1840. According to these accounts, Newell K. Whitney then became the presiding bishop.

However, the documents relating the history and development of the Church indicate that Edward Partridge was not actually the presiding bishop of the Church. In fact, the office of presiding bishop of the Church was not established until 1847. As the last presiding quorum of the Church to develop, the office of presiding bishop was preceded by the regional office of general bishops of the Church.

The office of general bishop of the Church began as a result of ten dual centers of the early Church at Kirtland, Ohio, and Independence, Missouri. In 1831, each had a congregation numbering more than 1,000.

Organization of the Church in Ohio and Missouri eventually entrenched the two-capital concept. Edward Partridge was appointed bishop of the Church February 4, 1831 (D&C 41:9), and later that year moved to Missouri to preside over the Saints in that area. On December 31, 1831, Newell K. Whitney was ordained bishop to preside in Kirtland. In 1834, the two capitals of the Church were organized further under a presidency and high council in each area.

There is no evidence that either bishop had any authority over the other. When they attended joint meetings of the leaders from both areas, the two men were simply listed as the Bishop of Zion and the Bishop of Kirtland, or were listed jointly as bishops of the Church.

After the troubled time in Missouri, the Saints moved to Illinois, where the office of bishop was greatly expanded. Bishops were called for each of the Nauvoo wards and for the surrounding stakes. When Bishop Partridge died, there were nine bishops in the Church.

A revelation to Joseph Smith on January 19, 1841, appointed George Miller to “the office of a bishopric, like unto my servant Edward Partridge. …” (D&C 124:21.) This seemed to continue the pattern of several bishops, with two general bishops to serve as directed.

In addition to continuing the role of the general bishops, the revelation later provided for a presiding bishop of the Church: “And again, I say unto you, I give unto you Vinson Knight, Samuel H. Smith and Shadrach Roundy, if he will receive it, to preside over the bishopric. …” (D&C 124:141.)

Vinson Knight, then, must be regarded as the first presiding bishop in this dispensation. He was so regarded by the Church historian Orson Pratt and by President John Taylor. However, Bishop Knight did not serve as a presiding bishop as we now understand the office, but as a third general bishop of the Church.

Following the death of Bishop Knight and the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo, Newell K. Whitney was sustained as presiding bishop. Beginning in 1847 he began to function as a presiding bishop, supervising the other bishops and the temporal affairs of the Church. He served without counselors, but with Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball aiding him in an advisory capacity.

Each presiding bishop who has succeeded Bishop Whitney has called counselors and the presiding bishopric has continued to function as it does today.

[photo] Edward Partridge

I am trying to trace my line of priesthood authority. I know who ordained me, but he does not remember who ordained him to the Melchizedek Priesthood. Where do I go now?

The archives in the Church Historical Department provide assistance in tracing lines of authority after individual priesthood holders have gone as far as they can go in completing their own line.

The best procedure is to contact the man who ordained you and ask him for the line of authority of the priesthood office he held at the time of your ordination. Also determine the ward and stake and date of his ordination, even if he does not know the individual who ordained him.

Two sources which may be helpful in determining lines of authority are a chart printed by Deseret Book Company and detailing the lines of authority of all of the general authorities, and Essentials in Church History by President Joseph Fielding Smith (Deseret Book Company, 1950), which gives the line of authority for all presidents of the Church.

If all other sources fail you, send the information which you have to the Church Historical Department, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Because of the number of requests which we receive we can only assist in determining the line of authority for your present priesthood office and not for any offices you held in the past.

Although tracing some lines may be difficult, we try to process all requests within one week.

As I read the Old Testament, I find the term “ephod.” What is an ephod?

The ephod was an article of sacred clothing worn by the high priests of the Levitical Priesthood. The Lord directed that they were not to wear ordinary clothing during their service, but they were to have “holy garments” made by those whom the Lord had “filled with the spirit of wisdom.” (Ex. 28:2–3.) These sacred garments were to be passed from father to son along with the high priestly office itself. (Ex. 29:29.)

The ephod, worn over a blue robe, was made of blue, purple, and scarlet material, with designs of gold thread skillfully woven into the fabric. This garment was fastened at each shoulder and had an intricately woven band with which it could be fastened around the waist. In gold settings on each shoulder were onyx stones engraved with the names of the 12 sons of Israel as a “memorial” as the priest served before the Lord. (See Ex. 28:6–14 and Ex. 39:2–7). Fastened to the ephod was a breastplate into which the Urim and Thummim could be placed. (Ex. 28:15–30.)

The exact function of the ephod is not known. As President Joseph Fielding Smith observed, information concerning these ancient ordinances “was never recorded in any detail, because such ordinances are sacred and not for the world.” (Improvement Era, November 1955, p. 794.)

There are later references to a linen ephod; the boy Samuel, for example, wore such a garment when he served the Lord.

I have never married. Will there be opportunities for marriage in the next life?

Someone has said, “To believe in God is to know that all of the rules will be fair, and there will be wonderful surprises.”

Our single sisters in the Church, without question, are some of the most devoted members. President Harold B. Lee recently said of them, “In your ranks are some of the noblest members of the Church.”

The prophets of God have repeatedly given assurances that there would be exaltation for the faithful, unmarried women. Exaltation requires that the candidates receive the ordinances and the sealing blessings, which means, of course, that they would be sealed to some worthy bearer of the priesthood in the next life and enjoy all of the blessings of marriage.

In our society, the direct initiative concerning marriage, by custom, is the place of the man. As regards proposals for marriage, this places women in a difficult position of having to accept or refuse proposals rather than to initiate them. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “No woman will be condemned by the Lord for refusing to accept a proposal which she feels she could not properly accept. … If in your heart you feel the gospel is true and would, under proper conditions, receive these ordinances and sealing blessings in the temple of the Lord, and that is your faith and your hope and your desire, and that does not come to you now, the Lord will make it up and you shall be blessed—for no blessing will be withheld. The Lord will judge you according to the desires of your hearts, when blessings are withheld in this life, and he is not going to condemn you for that which you cannot help.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Bookcraft, Incorporated, 1955, 2:77.)

Why do portraits of Moses by the “old masters,” such as the one on the cover of the October Ensign, and the statue by Michaelangelo on page 8 of the same issue, show him with horn-like rays coming from his head?

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the book of Exodus tells us that the “skin of his face shone.”

Early Latin (Vulgate) editions of the Old Testament mistranslated this phrase from the Hebrew. The translators had mistaken the word light for the word horn. Thus many early painters and sculptors showed Moses with horns, or later, rays of light which resembled horns.

The portrait of Moses is typical of those painted by the Spaniard Ribera (1588–1652) who had gone to Naples to paint. Ribera often used the faces of the Neapolitan peasants to portray the great prophets of the past. He wanted them to have the strength and dignity of the “common man.”

The statue of Moses, executed by Michaelangelo between 1513 and 1515, sits at the foot of the tomb of Pope Julius. Michaelangelo tried to show Moses as a man of action and power, and also as a strong and sensitive man.