The Songs I Cannot Sing

I love singing hymns. I don't have a good singing voice, but that doesn't stop me belting out some of my favourites. I particularly like "I Stand All Amazed", "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah","How Great Thou Art" and "There is Sunshine in my Soul".Many hymns have stirring tunes, poetic and meaningful words, and contribute greatly to our worship.

But there are three hymns in our current LDS hymnbook which I don't join in with.

1. Praise to the Man (27)

Because of my background (read my conversion story here) I seem to spend a lot of time speaking to anti-Mormons, online or in person. That's fine, I'm happy to help, and I love to put myths to rest and clarify things among our (generally) Christian brethren who are labouring under misunderstandings about Mormons.

Once or twice I have insisted to people that Latter-day Saints do not worship Joseph Smith (admire and respect, maybe, but not worship) only to have them point to this hymn.

"Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah ... great is his glory and endless his priesthood."

The whole thing is a hymn of praise to Joseph Smith.  I don't worship Joseph Smith, so I refuse to sing it. (The tune is lovely, however.)

2. Oh my Father (292)

I dislike this song for pretty much the same reason. Anti-Mormons get a lot of mileage from claiming that Mormons believe weird and wacky things like, for example, God being married to a "Heavenly Mother".

I know many Mormons, especially Mormon feminists (and I consider myself a feminist) believe in a heavenly mother, and priesthood leaders--and documents as official as the Proclamation on the Family--talk about "heavenly parents", but the scriptures are entirely silent on the issue of whether or not we have a heavenly mother as well as a Heavenly Father, and my general rule of thumb is not to accept something if it's not in the scriptures. In fact, the very first mention in Mormon writing of the possibility of a mother in heaven is this song! It was written by Eliza Snow, one of Joseph Smith's wives (and later one of Brigham Young's wives) but there is no record of Joseph Smith ever teaching any such doctrine. Church Historian Linda Wilcox said that Heavenly Mother "is a shadowy and elusive belief floating around the edges of Mormon consciousness".

Now, I'm all for women receiving revelation, but this reads very much as Sister Snow's personal speculation:

In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.

I object to this song because it's on doctrinally dodgy ground, and because it fuels anti-Mormon propaganda

3. If You Could Hie to Kolob (284)

This is the song I like least in the entire hymnbook.

First off, there is no end to this song! It is four slow verses long, and twenty lines consist of "there is no end to..."

Second, there is a line which says "There is no end to race." Race? Really? What is that supposed to mean? Is there racial segregation in heaven, because if there is, I don't want to go there.

The third reason I dislike this song is that, as with the others mentioned above, it's seized upon by anti-Mormons to demonstrate how weird and crazy we Mormons are. And they have a point. For those who don't know, Kolob is the name given to the place where God lives. It's all a bit sci-fi (I love sci-fi) and a whole peripheral urban myth type doctrine has grown up around it as people speculate wildly about where exactly Kolob might be, and what it might be like, and so forth. I've never actually been taught any doctrines about Kolob in my twenty years in the church, so I tend to assume, as with the heavenly mother doctrine, that it's a bit apocryphal. And yet here it is immortalised in a beloved  and very perplexing hymn, one which missionaries often groan to see on the hymnboard on a day when they've brought investigators to church.

The fourth and final reason I dislike this hymn is because I grew up singing very different--and very beautiful--words to that same tune. For me, that particular tune (Kingsfold) will always belong to "I heard the voice of Jesus say."

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise
And all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I'll walk
Till traveling days are done.

How gorgeous are those words! Why, oh why, do we have to sing about some planet and there being no end to race instead?

Our hymnbook was compiled and published in 1985. I think it may be due an overhaul, and I'd very much like to see these hymns dropped.


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