Seer Stone Memo

My daughter M recently moved up a class in Primary, as is the custom at the beginning of a new year in the Church. She progressed from being a Sunbeam to being a CTR, I believe (at least, they got a CTR sticker, so I assume that is the class she is now in–whatever is now the class immediately after Sunbeams).

Imagine my surprise on Sunday when she walked out of her Primary class holding a card with two clear Pente stones glued to it. Apparently, Sister T., a senior citizen who seems not to have gotten the memo on covering up Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones in the process of translating the Book of Mormon, thought that the children in her Primary Class should learn about the miracle of the seer stones. I am assuming that she also spoke to them about the Urim and Thummim.

A little background: people were incredulous when I commented that I had learned about the seer stones in Primary, specifically, I think I mentioned CTR class, if Ronan recorded the statement correctly.  This just couldn’t be, everyone assured me; after all, people leave the Church when they learn about seer stones, so primary kids cannot be told about them. The ward I grew up in was in Dallas. The ward my daughter is growing up in is in SLC. It appears that in these two wards, geographically so far apart, and with a generation of time between the two experiences, primary children are being taught about Joseph Smith’s seer stones and their use in translating the Book of Mormon. Is this a coincidence? Or is the Church not as "hush-hush" about seer stones as everyone assured me?

One thing this emphasizes for me is that my learning about the seer stones as a Primary aged child was not merely because my parents were interested in the particulars of the history of the LDS Church. Rather, people are talking and teaching about them in the Church. People in the mainstream Church are not embarassed about them–at least any moreso than they are or could be embarassed by the myriad other weird things we believe in, such as the visitation of angels to the Prophet Joseph Smith; the fact that God and Jesus called a boy prophet to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ; exaltation; temple worship; the ministry of Jesus Christ to the inhabitants of the American continent sometime shortly after his Ascension in Jerusalem; and many other things. Joseph’s using seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon, even looking into the stone in his hat to block out the light, as recorded by Emma, is no stranger than any of these things. It is strange, but it is true, and it is miraculous.

I hope what my children learn from being taught about the seer stones in Primary and in our home is that it is okay to believe in things that seem strange to people without the same faith as them. When they see the South Park episode that supposedly disturbed so many Latter-day Saints (I have always doubted this claim), if they ever do see it, I hope that what they feel is a genuine sadness that others want to mock their faith (this is what I feel), and not some kind of shock that if we really believe that Joseph used a seer stone to translate, then that is just too weird and must be bogus.

Anyway, someone please see that Sister T. gets that memo before she accidentally lets the whole business about seer stones slip to yet another class of four and five year olds next year.

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14 Responses to Seer Stone Memo

  1. John C. says:

    John F.
    At least you have convinced me that you live in the weirdest ward ever.

  2. ed says:

    Interesting story!

    I think, though, that you need to distinguish between “seerstones” (or “peepstones”) and the “urim and thumim.” The idea that there are/were some miraculous stones that Joseph received from an angel is very much part of the mainstream story…it’s right there in the PoGP, and mentioned in the BOM as well. So there is no surprise that your daughter was taught that, although actually *giving* her a couple of clear stones is quite an unusual touch.

    What members often don’t know and find surprising (even troubling) is that the stone(s) Joseph used for most of the translation was *not* the ones he received from the Angel, but one that he happened to dig up out of the ground somewhere, likely the same one that he’d used in dubious failed efforts to find buried treasure. Furthermore, I think most members don’t know about the fact that Joseph had his face in a hat (at least pre-Southpark they didn’t), and indeed that he didn’t even need to be in the same room with the plates in order to “translate” them. If your daughter learned those things in primary, I’m even more impressed!

  3. john f. says:

    John C. which ward are you referring to–the ward in which I personally learned about seer stones in CTR class 25 years ago, or the one where my daughter learned about seer stones in her CRT class last Sunday? My point with this post is that the ward I grew up in in Dallas was not as crazy as everyone was making it sound when you all expressed doubt that I really could have learned about seer stones in Primary. The fact that my daughter just learned about them in her Primary, without any input from me and certainly with no connection whatsoever to the Richardson Second Ward in Dallas, TX shows that if church members don’t know about seer stones, it’s not because the church isn’t talking about them. It seems too big a coincidence that I and now my daughter have now experienced the same teaching in Primary with so much distance and time separating the two instances. This doesn’t mean that every individual learns of seer stones in Primary or in the Church, but it implies that it is as likely as not that a person will be introduced to the topic of seer stones right in the middle of correlated Church classes as through South Park cartoons.

  4. john f. says:

    Good point Ed. I think we should be cautious before anyone of us can make a definitive statement about which stones were used when, etc. The history of all this is not that clear.

    Still, I understand your point that what can shake up Church members is the notion that there were various stones and their origins. I am sure that the Primary teacher didn’t teach them about gold-digging, but I seem to remember learning about that stuff pretty young too. It didn’t seem so evil to me, though. Oh well. You never know what will shake someone up about the origins of the restored gospel.

  5. John C. says:

    John,
    I would happily nominate both if it wasn’t impossible. I went to see the new Joseph Smith movie the other day (the one at the Joseph Smith building) and it featured Joseph translating from the plates itself. So, although the church isn’t cracking down on the knowledge, it certainly isn’t promoting it and doesn’t seem at all interested in doing so, which is fine (to be honest, having learned the actual situation, my testimony failed to be shattered). Please don’t tell me that your daughter’s teacher was using correlated material to teach about the seer stone (and are you sure she wasn’t talking about the Urim and Thummim anyway? It is certainly more kosher).

  6. ed says:

    Yes, the fact that there were *two* and that they were *clear* seems to indicate that they were supposed to represent the stones fastened to the breastplate as described right there in the PoGP, not the ones apparently used for the bulk of the translation as described in various (mostly uncorrelated) sources. I’d even be surprised if the word “seerstone” had been used, either.

    So I don’t think the fact that the U&T was described is the least bit surprising, but I do think giving the example stones is pretty weird. Are the kids supposed to go home and try to look through them, or something? Shouldn’t we just wait for the “white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17?” :-)

  7. Wendy says:

    I guess it wasn’t that outlandish of me to want the nursery children to draw a picture of Joseph Smith with his 33 wives. ;-D

  8. chronicler says:

    I wasn’t a member when I was primary age. I lived in southern california for my seminary years. That’s where I learned about the sser stones. It didn’t seem to faze anyone, or shake testimonies. I’ve never heard of the memo either John.

  9. anothernonymous says:

    I distinctly remember as a child going through my parents’ polished rock collection and taking a small brownish/reddish stone and thinking, “This is probably what one of the seer stones Joseph Smith had looked like.” I thought it was cool – it didn’t make me pretensious in thinking I could attempt to exercise “seership” but it helped me to relate to the manner in which Joseph Smith used it.

  10. don says:

    I’d have to research my materials again, but I seem to remember that Joseph’s seer stone was placed on the alter at the dedication of the Manti temple….that being the last reference to it’s existence…probably in the basement of the Church Office building or Pres. Hinckley’s drawer ;-)

  11. Eric Russell says:

    I think instances of people being disturbed by discovering Joseph translated with the seer stone are rare. Most members know he translated with the Urim and Thummim, and though there is indeed a difference, I don’t think people would be particularly surprised to learn he used the seerstone. I think if you brought it up nonchalantly in a church history lesson, it would go largely unnoticed and not cared about.

  12. john f. says:

    Eric, this was tried and tested this very Sunday in a far-flung ward in East London. After one ward member mentioned something from Oliver Cowdery’s account of the translation process, I raised my hand to supplement this with a comment as to David Whitmer and Emma Smith’s statements relating to using the seer-stone in the hat. My wife — the Sunday School teacher — likely didn’t appreciate it as it wasn’t fully relevant to the lesson she was teaching but the reaction was exactly as you predicted: it went entirely unnoticed and no one seemed to care about it in the slightest.

    For me personally David Whitmer’s account coupled with Emma’s account actually support the idea that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon as a fraudulent work of fiction (reading for hours on end with his face buried in the hat looking into the seer stone). But for most Latter-day Saints, I would think, the U&T or the seerstone or reading directly from the plates through the inspiration of the Spirit is all the same: the translation process was a miracle from God. Perhaps this is why artists seem to have preferred depicting Joseph Smith translating as per Oliver Cowdery’s account, i.e. reading from the plates from behind a screen with the use of the U&T — because the actual process is irrelevant in the overall scheme of things and Oliver Cowdery’s scene offers the most artistically attractive option (in the minds of the artists).

  13. Jordan F. says:

    Wow- a reply almost two years later! Timely! :)

  14. john f. says:

    For the record, Justin pointed out in a different discussion at BCC recently that Oliver Cowdery’s account does not mention a screen in the translation process

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