bear the burden

The Destiny of The Mother Church

The Destiny of The Mother Church (1991, ISBN 087510231X) is the primary and theologically disputed work of Bliss Knapp, the son of Ira O. and Flavia S. Knapp, trusted students of Mary Baker Eddy. According to the Introduction to the Twentieth-Century Biographers Series published by The Christian Science Publishing Society, Mary Baker Eddy trusted Ira greatly, making him one of the original Directors of The Mother Church and "one of her closest workers over more than two decades".

The younger Knapp was a Christian Science lecturer for over 21 years. He was also a teacher of Christian Science who believed that Eddy represented a personal fulfillment of biblical prophecy such as the woman in the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation. Although representatives of the church testified in a court hearing that the apocalyptic woman represented a generic, universal type of the world's persecution of spiritual truth rather than a specific personality, Mary Baker Eddy did identify with the experience the apocalyptic woman represented.

The book was privately published in 1947 and Knapp sent a book draft of Destiny to the Christian Science Board of Directors requesting that the church publish it as authorized literature. The Christian Science Board of Directors wrote him a six-page letter in February 1948 politely explaining numerous points they regarded as at erroneous variance from Eddy's teaching. Instead of revising it as they proposed, he left a trust with approximately $100 million in 1990s dollars, acquired by way of marriage to Eloise Mabury, to revert to the Christian Science church if it ever published his work as "authorized literature".

Although through the decades the Board of Directors as a whole voted against publishing the book, there are questions as to the unanimity of those decisions. In the 1990s the whole Christian Science Board of Directors decided to publish The Destiny of The Mother Church arguing that the book did not have to bear the burden of theological correctness. While some members believed the decision to publish the book was prompted by the financial needs of The Mother Church, The Christian Science Board of Directors argued that because Knapp knew Mary Baker Eddy personally and was intimately involved in the workings of the church during her lifetime, his biography presented a valuable historical record.

The church issued The Destiny of The Mother Church without annotation as Knapp's will demanded, as part of a series of biographies of Mary Baker Eddy, called The Twentieth-Century Biographers Series. In the fall of 1991 former church Archivist Lee Johnson presented a six-page letter of the book's unusual history. A large number of Christian Science branch churches voted not to carry the book or simply declined to order it, though precise figures are difficult to establish. The financial disbursement was contested by alternate beneficiaries Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Art Museum, ultimating in an approximately 50-25-25 negotiated settlement split (in apparent violation of Knapp's original mandate that his terms not be in any way disputed).

The book's publication attracted a fair deal of unwelcome media attention and continued to be held by many members, in spite of the church's defense, to violate Eddy's basic teachings and the Manual of The Mother Church, the church's equivalent of constitutional law.

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