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    “Healing,” Church History Topics

    “Healing”

    Healing

    During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ healed the sick and afflicted. He gave His disciples power and authority to heal and taught that the gift of healing is one of the “signs [that] shall follow them that believe.”1 Modern revelation to Joseph Smith reaffirmed these principles and identified both the “faith to be healed” and the “faith to heal” as gifts of the Spirit.2

    Jesus Christ healing a man

    During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ healed the sick and afflicted.

    History of Healing Practices

    Early Latter-day Saints exercised the spiritual gift of healing in two overlapping ways. First, they followed counsel given in the New Testament and in revelations received by Joseph Smith that instructed them to call on “the elders of the church” to “lay their hands upon” the sick and bless them.3 In keeping with this scriptural injunction, men holding priesthood offices in the Church performed healing blessings. Second, early Latter-day Saints viewed healing as a gift of the Spirit, available to anyone who possessed sufficient faith.4 In the 19th and early 20th centuries, both men and women performed healing blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, often by laying hands on the affected part of the body but without specifically invoking priesthood authority.5

    Early Mormon healing practices were diverse. The use of consecrated oil for anointing the sick was instituted after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, though the manner in which the oil was used changed over time. For example, persons who were sick or injured often applied the oil to the affected areas much like a salve.6 Rituals commonly employed for other purposes were also adapted for healing. For example, baptisms were sometimes performed for health reasons. In such cases, men and women were immersed in water, not for a remission of their sins but for their physical well-being. These baptisms were performed in temples by men holding priesthood authority until the early 20th century.7 Other healing ceremonies were performed in temples, including washing and anointing for health; both men and women were set apart to administer those blessings.8

    Joseph Smith endorsed women’s participation in healing. “Respecting the female laying on hands,” Joseph said, “it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith.”9 For women, blessing the sick was a natural extension of their work as the primary nurses and caregivers in times of illness. In particular, Latter-day Saint women often anointed and blessed other women in cases of pregnancy and childbirth.10

    Brigham Young and other Church leaders continued to encourage women to seek the spiritual gift of healing and approved women’s participation in healing blessings.11 In 1880, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that women performed healing blessings “not by virtue and authority of the priesthood, but by virtue of their faith in Christ.”12 Likewise, Relief Society General President Eliza R. Snow taught, “Women can administer in the name of Jesus but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”13

    By the late 19th century, new generations of Latter-day Saints began to seek health and healing in different ways than their predecessors. They continued to call for the sick to be anointed with oil, but in many instances, they emphasized the efficacy of fasting and prayer without formal administration.14 Advances in scientific medicine also led them to trust doctors and hospitals more than previous generations had.15 In the early 20th century, Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant standardized priesthood procedures and ordinances, including healing blessings.16 This standardization included publishing instructions for priesthood healing blessings in handbooks for missionaries and local priesthood leaders.17 Church leaders also gave specific instructions regarding the use of consecrated oil in blessings, prescribing a simple anointing on the crown of the head.18 In the 1920s, baptisms for health were discontinued, as were temple healing blessings.19

    With respect to women’s participation in healing blessings, a 1914 letter from the First Presidency affirmed that “any good sister, full of faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer” may bless the sick. But the Presidency emphasized the priority of priesthood blessings: “The command of the Lord is to call in the elders to administer to the sick, and when they can be called in, they should be asked to anoint the sick or seal the anointing.”20 Subsequent Church leaders emphasized the scriptural instruction to “call for the elders” to administer healing blessings.21 This emphasis was underscored in Church periodicals and in letters sent to and distributed by local Relief Society leaders in the 1940s and 1950s.22 The Church’s current handbook directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.”23

    Healing and Medical Science

    While seeking healing through spiritual means, early Latter-day Saints followed the scriptural counsel that the sick should be “nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food.”24 President Brigham Young taught that it was appropriate “to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and to ask my Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, to sanctify that application to the healing of my body.”25 He advocated professional medical training for both men and women and approved financial support for several Church members to attend medical schools in the eastern United States.26

    Latter-day Saints continue to seek appropriate medical treatment from qualified professionals. Church leaders have taught that “the use of medical science is not at odds with our prayers of faith and our reliance on priesthood blessings.”27 Latter-day Saints believe in preventing illness through proper diet, adequate exercise and rest, observance of the Word of Wisdom, and preventive health care. In recent decades, for example, the Church has contributed substantial resources to vaccination efforts around the world.28

    The Gift of Healing Today

    The gift of healing is exercised in the Church today through individual faith and prayer—on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others—and through priesthood blessings. The fulfillment of healing blessings comes by faith and according to the will of the Lord. Not all blessings result in healing. “We do all that we can for the healing of a loved one,” taught Elder Dallin H. Oaks, while serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “and then we trust in the Lord for the outcome.”29

    Administering a healing blessing

    Melchizedek Priesthood holders administer a healing blessing.

    Related Topics: Gifts of the Spirit, Gift of Tongues

    Notes

    1. Matthew 10:1; Mark 16:17; see also Matthew 17:20–21; Acts 3:1–7; 5:12, 15–16; 14:8–10; James 5:13–16.

    2. Revelation, circa 8 March 1831–A [D&C 46],” in Revelation Book 1, 77, 78, josephsmithpapers.org; “Revelation, 7 December 1830 [D&C 35],” in Revelation Book 1, 47, josephsmithpapers.org; “Revelation 22–23 September 1832 [D&C 84],” 3, josephsmithpapers.org; see also Doctrine and Covenants 35:9; 46:9, 19–20; 84:65–72.

    3. James 5:14–15; “Revelation, 9 February 1831 [D&C 42:1–72],” 4, josephsmithpapers.org; see also Doctrine and Covenants 42:43–44.

    4. 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; Moroni 10:11; “Revelation, circa 8 March 1831–A [D&C 46],” in Revelation Book 1, 78; see also Doctrine and Covenants 46:20.

    5. For accounts of early Mormon healing practices, see The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, edited by Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 40, 45, 66, 71; Juanita L. Pulsipher, ed., “History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt (1875),” 9, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; see also Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “The Forms and the Power: The Development of Mormon Ritual Healing to 1847,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 35, no. 3 (Summer 2009), 42–87.

    6. See Stapley and Wright, “The Forms and the Power,” 65–66. In some instances, the afflicted person drank consecrated oil.

    7. Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “‘They Shall Be Made Whole’: A History of Baptism for Health,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 2008), 69–112.

    8. These healing rituals included laying on of hands and washing and anointing. Stapley and Wright, “The Forms and the Power,” 75–77.

    9. Nauvoo Relief Society minutes, Apr. 28, 1842, in Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 55.

    10. Mary Walker Morris diary, July 22 and Sept. 6, 1879; Mar. 3, 1881, in Before the Manifesto: The Life Writings of Mary Lois Walker Morris, edited by Melissa Lambert Milewski (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2007), 226, 230, 298. In other instances, women washed and anointed and men sealed the anointing and blessed. Morris diary, Sept. 7–8, 1881, in Life Writings, 314. Women typically performed these blessings in the company of, and on behalf of, other women or children, but at times they also blessed men or acted with men in giving blessings of healing or comfort. For example, see Wilford Woodruff journal, Mar. 30, 1838, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; see also Helen Mar Kimball, “Scenes in Nauvoo, and Incidents from H. C. Kimball’s Journal,” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 12, no. 6 (Aug. 15, 1883), 42. Women’s participation in healing rituals is discussed further in Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 44–45, 67–68, 114, 220–21, 429–30. A more recent and comprehensive treatment is Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 2011), 1–85.

    11. For examples of such statements, see Brigham Young discourse, Nov. 14, 1869, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot, 1871), 13:155; “Report of the Dedication of the Kaysville Relief Society House, Nov. 12, 1876,” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 5, no. 19 (Mar. 1, 1877), 149.

    12. Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Draft Circular Letter, October 6, 1880 (Excerpt),” in Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 489. President Wilford Woodruff spoke in similar terms in a letter of instruction to the general secretary of the Relief Society. He said that women administered to the sick “not as members of the priesthood, but as members of the Church” (Wilford Woodruff letter to Emmeline B. Wells, Apr. 27, 1888, 3, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).

    13. Morgan Utah Stake Relief Society minutes and records (1878–1912), vol. 1, Apr. 28, 1883, 93, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

    14. See Minutes, Nov. 1888, Ashley Center Ward Relief Society minute book, 1880–92, vol. 1, 77, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Minutes, Mar. 5, 1896, Thatcher Ward Relief Society minutes and records, 1884–1910, vol. 1, 166; Minutes, Oct. 23, 1897, Farmers Ward Relief Society minutes and records, 1896–1902, vol. 2, 62; Minutes, Sept. 13, 1899, Provo Utah Central Stake Relief Society minutes, vol. 5, 41.

    15. See Jonathan A. Stapley, “‘Pouring in Oil’: The Development of the Modern Mormon Healing Ritual,” in Daniel L. Belnap, ed., By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in Scripture, History, and Practice (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2013), 295, 297–98.

    16. See Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations Manual, 1902–1903 (Salt Lake City: General Board of Y.M.M.I.A., 1902), 58–59; Handbook of Instructions for Stake Presidencies, Bishops, and Counselors, Stake and Ward Clerks and Other Church Officers, no. 16 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1940), 125–26; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:148.

    17. See Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations Manual, 58–59.

    18. Stapley, “‘Pouring in Oil,’” 303–5.

    19. Stapley and Wright, “Female Ritual Healing,” 64–69. The association of the temple with healing continues today in the practice of submitting names to temple prayer rolls, where prayers on behalf of the sick are offered as part of the temple ceremonies.

    20. First Presidency letter to stake presidents and bishops, Oct. 3, 1914, in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 4:314–15. The Presidency stated that women “have the same right to administer to sick children as to adults, and may anoint and lay hands upon them in faith” (First Presidency letter, Oct. 3, 1914). This increased emphasis on the authority of the priesthood to administer the gift of healing distinguished Latter-day Saint healing practices from popular forms of faith healing that had become prevalent in early 20th-century American culture. Only priesthood blessings were considered authentic. See Stapley and Wright, “Female Ritual Healing,” 41–46; John A. Widtsoe, Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: General Boards of the Mutual Improvement Associations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938), 127.

    21. James 5:14; Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jan. 16, 1921, 101, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Heber J. Grant letter to P. J. Hansen, Mar. 12, 1934, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay letter to Rodney S. Williams, Dec. 14, 1943, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

    22. Form letter on Relief Society letterhead, July 29, 1946, Relief Society Washing and Anointing File, Church History Library, Salt Lake City (an annotation on the letter indicates it was written by Joseph Fielding Smith for the use of Relief Society leaders); Joseph Fielding Smith, “Your Question: Administering to the Sick,” Improvement Era, vol. 58, no. 8 (Aug. 1955), 558–59, 607.

    23. Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010), 20.6.1.

    24. Doctrine and Covenants 42:43.

    25. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot, 1857), 4:24.

    26. Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 107–8.

    27. Dallin H. Oaks, “Healing the Sick,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 47.

    28. Measles Vaccination Campaign,” Mormon Newsroom, mormonnewsroom.org.

    29. Dallin H. Oaks, “Healing the Sick,” 50.