Rehabbing Elder McConkie

By: Mormon Heretic
September 10, 2012

Bruce R. McConkie

Elder McConkie has been much maligned in the bloggernacle for his book Mormon Doctrine, which has often been cited as “Bruce’s Doctrine”, or known to have many errors (even by me.)  However, many often fail to mention Elder McConkie’s contributions to Mormonism: he put together much of the Bible Dictionary (of which few people complain), as well as many of the chapter headings in the LDS scriptures.  President Kimball also singled out Elder McConkie for his part as to whether the priesthood/temple ban on black church members had any basis in scripture.

I’ve been reading Lengthen Your Stride by Edward Kimball, and I wanted to discuss Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s role in the events leading up to the 1978 revelation.  Benchmark Books has published a limited edition, longer “working draft” version with much more information than is available in the traditional version of Lengthen Your Stride, though you can see this working version on the accompanying CD.  The information in blue comes from the longer “Working Draft” version. From page 344 of the longer version (Chapter 22),

In June 1977, Spencer invited at least three General Authorities to give him memos on the implications of the subject.11 Elder McConkie wrote a long memorandum concluding that there was no scriptural barrier to a change in policy that would give priesthood to Black men.12 Considering Elder McConkie’s extremely traditional approach to the topic during the Lee administration, this conclusion explains why, according to Elder Packer, “President Kimball spoke in public of his gratitude to Elder McConkie for some special support he received in the days leading up to the revelation.”13

Elder McConkie is often quoted as saying in a 1979 talk to Seminary and Institute teachers (from page 377)

Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever has siad in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.  We spoke with limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

…It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978.  It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation….25

What is surprising about Elder McConkie is that he created an updated version of Mormon Doctrine in 1979, but he did not revise his teachings in the book.  In the footnote 25, Edward Kimball states,

Despite this sweeping language, Elder McConkie may have changes his views only about when the curse should be lifted. In the 1979 revision of his second edition of Mormon Doctrine, he continued to express the view that those of black African lineage descend from Cain and at least those who lived before 1978 come to earth under a curse related to their pre-mortal lives.  McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, sv. Cain (108-9) Caste System (114), Egyptus (214), Ham (342), Negroes (526-28), Races of Men (616)/  And he said in McConkie, “New Revelation,” “The ancient curse is no more. The seed of Cain and Ham and Canaan and Egyptus and Pharaoh–all these now have power to rise up and bless Abraham as their father” (128).  But he also said, “[W]e can only suppose and reason that it [the restriction on Blacks] is on the basis of preexistence and of our premortal devotion and faith.” [pages 130-31].  Dennis B. Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2000), 151-52, attributes to Elder McConkie unchanged views as to the basis for the policy. (emphasis in original)

I think this paradox between McConkie’s speech and his updated book Mormon Doctrine is especially intriguing.  I admit that I like his speech better than his book, and if I have to choose between the two, I choose the speech as the more inspired message.  But I was also fascinated to find out President McKay’s thoughts on the topic as well.  In a previous post, I discussed McKay’s conversation with Sterling McMurrin where McKay agreed with McMurrin that the ban was not doctrinal, but merely policy.  Yet, McKay felt the even though it was policy, it still required a revelation to remove the ban.  In Kimball’s book, the author expanded on McKay’s thoughts a bit (which seem similar to McConkie’s thoughts).  From page 314, McKay wrote in a 1947 letter,

I know of no other basis for denying the priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the book of Abraham [1:26]; however, I believe, the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life.19

Edward Kimball goes on to state that

Men reasoned that if there were “noble and great” spirits before mortality (Abraham 3:22-26), there must also be spirits of all degrees of lesser quality.  But if, in the long run, men and women of all races would be blessed in accordance with their desserts, race is seen to be essentially irrelevant, except perhaps as a test.19

It seems then that Elder McConkie’s thought were in line with President McKay’s, especially in regard to the non-scriptural idea that the ban was a result of pre-mortal behavior.  It is worthy to note that President McKay did pray to have the ban removed several times.  Edward Kimball states that McKay

told Elder Marion D. Hanks that “he had pleaded with the Lord but had not had the answer he sought.”57 Leonard Arrington reported a statement by Elder Adam S. Bennion in 1954 that President McKay had prayed for change “without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe.”58

What are your thoughts about Elder McConkie’s role in this?  Do you have any thoughts regarding why McKay didn’t receive an answer because the time wasn’t right, yet the time was right for President Kimball?

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36 Responses to Rehabbing Elder McConkie

  1. NewlyHousewife on September 10, 2012 at 1:40 AM

    I think sometimes even when we believe ourselves to be earnestly praying for answers, our own conceived notions block whatever revelation we would have received. Placing trust in God is a lifelong lesson few achieve while on this earth.

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  2. Jenn on September 10, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    I actually adore Bruce R Mckonkie, for his testimony and the amount of THOUGHT he put into the doctrine. I actually think he’s a good example of an intellectual approach to the Gospel. The problem comes in when people take his thoughts as Doctrine. So while I adore Mckonkie, I can’t say I like his fanboys (I had a BoM class at BYU that might as well have been “the gospel according to Bruce”).

    I don’t believe he played a big part in the ban not being lifted. After all,we saw in 1967 that the Quorum wanted to lift the ban but got “overruled”. But then, I don’t think revelation is all that was needed to lift it- I think we needed a leader who really WANTED that answer and believed it would be the right thing for the church(whether he wanted it for Christ-like reasons or because of politics and external pressures- or maybe a bit of both- is a different story). I think our own preferences greatly color the revelation we receive- even the Prophets.

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  3. Bob on September 10, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    I don’t think Elder Mckonkie needs “rehabbing__he was what he was__the showing tip of an iceberg of Mormonism at that time.
    What was needed was a change in the thinking of the Church. This I think was done due some by the openness of Elder McKonkie.

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  4. Bob on September 10, 2012 at 7:44 AM


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  5. Mike S on September 10, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    I think Elder McConkie did what he sincerely thought was best. He put a lot of time, effort, and prayer into trying to help the members of the Church.

    At the same time, I think he potentially did some harm. The gospel is a delicate balance. There is a role for the “conservative, hard-line, focus on minutae” approach, but it also has its weaknesses. The Church has a 20-30+ year “tenure” track: bishop -> stake president -> mission president -> general authority. Therefore, many of the current leaders were bishops and early leaders when Elder McConkie has his greatest influence. The men who best fit the “McConkie mold” were the most likely to be promoted. This has influenced the current leadership of the Church.

    In the past, there were liberals and conservative apostles. There were those who believed in some type of evolution and those who didn’t. There were those who thought Coke and rum cake were fine, and others who thought white bread was against the Word of Wisdom. The leadership reflected the demographics of the Church as a whole.

    Because of Elder McConkie’s influence, essentially an entire half of the church has been effectively silenced. We now see who can go “further”. If one leader doesn’t think two sets of earrings looks good, the next leader praises someone breaking off an engagement over the issue, and someone else gets it published in manuals for our youth. We end up air-brushing cap sleeves on beautiful children and timeless paintings. We end up doing lots of crazy things.

    I could obviously be wrong (and probably am), but I see a lot of what is happening in the Church today as a result of leaders who were “brought up” under the teachings of Elder McConkie and who think it is the only correct approach to the gospel.

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  6. Bob on September 10, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    #5: Mike S,
    “Because of Elder McConkie’s influence, essentially an entire half of the church has been effectively silenced”.
    I think you put too on McConke”s influence. You must start with Talmage, JF Smith, JA Smith, Rubin Clack, McKay, Lee, and others. They all had a hand in liberal and conservative thinking in the Church.
    McKay would not name McConkie an apostle for 26 years.

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  7. Mike S on September 10, 2012 at 10:05 AM


    I agree that there were many others who had similar feelings, including McConkie’s father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith.

    The big difference in influence, however, was related to what he wrote. While others may have given talks in various conferences, McConkie took it upon himself (much to the chagrin of the FP and Q12) to publish Mormon Doctrine: A Compendium of the Gospel. While there were over a thousand errors in this, and he was asked to not publish it again by President McKay, he continued to do so. He did soften its tone somewhat, but it was still a harsh book.

    And this, most than anything else, is why McConkie’s influence in the formative time of the current generation of leaders is so high. Families owned the book (I read it as a youth). It was widely quoted from in church manuals. It was influential. And the influence lived on. The church is now trying to distance itself from it, but because of generational inertia, it will take a few more decades.

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  8. Chris on September 10, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    I just finished reading 1 Corinthians in which Paul insists women should have long hair and cover their hair in Church. I wonder how much Church doctrine is influenced by cultural bias rather than real revelation. I suspect that the Church’s previous position on denying blacks the priesthood is an example of that.

    Bruce R. McConkie was my husband’s mission president. As a leader, he was kind, forgiving, generous, and loving. He never sent a missionary home, but loved those who struggles and exemplified many Christlike qualities. My husband, a new convert, tells many inspiring stories about Elder McConkie’s goodness as a leader, husband, and father. I am grateful for my husband’s insights because it would be easy to misjudge him for his seemingly stern demeanor but in reality he was a funny, gentle giant.

    However, even brilliant men like Elder McConkie can make doctrinal mistakes, and I’m grateful that he admitted he was imperfect on his position about blacks holding the priesthood when he spoke at BYU. We also recognize that he position on the Catholic Church was flawed and later reversed by Church leaders as well.

    With that said, Elder McConkie’s contribution to Scripture study and topical analyses of doctrinal subjects in the Topical Guide is huge!

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  9. MH on September 10, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    Mike, I must agree with Bob on this case. (Did I just say what I think I said????)

    You seem to be piling on McConkie in comment 5. McConkie had nothing to do with earings, or capsleeves or white bread. Lumping those things on McConkie is a bit infair, IMO.

    Really, McConkie is a favorite whipping boy on the bloggernacle. While I’m the first to hold my nose at some of the things he said in his book, few on the bloggernacle note any of his tremendous contributions. the internet portrait of him is a flawed caricature of him. It is nice when someone like Chris acknowledges a side of McConkie that few people openly acknowledge.

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  10. MH on September 10, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    Furthermore, I think you are overstating McConkie’s influence. Mark E. Peterson and Ezra Taft Benson were just as, if not more influential in making the church more conservative in its approach. McConkie is not a one man band.

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  11. Bob on September 10, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    #7:Mike S,
    “McConkie took it upon himself…(MD)”.
    “McConkie was one of the “Clark Boys”. He was a spokeperson for them, not the leader. He was brought in back in 1946 as a Seventy. McKay kept him there for 26 years. One of the ways McKay fought off the “Clark Boys”, was to add Brown and Tanner to the FP (Making it five).

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  12. Mike S on September 10, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    #9 MH: McConkie had nothing to do with earings, or capsleeves or white bread. Lumping those things on McConkie is a bit infair, IMO.

    I agree 100%. Granted I am only in my 40′s and wasn’t in my “prime” during many of the changes that occurred in the Church, but in my mind, McConkie was the “face” of many things – largely because he defined himself as the “purveyor” of what it meant to be “Mormon”. It may or may not be a fair characterization, but it’s my own opinion (as flawed as that may be).

    That being said, he was a great scholar. I learned a lot from his multi-volume Messiah series (and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Christ). I like many of his talks. I also respect his willingness to be corrected and humility in things like the 1978 revelation.

    Perhaps my biggest complaint about him (that seems rampant today) is the conflation of societal practices with eternal doctrinal principles. His book was one of the first times I saw someone’s opinions on societal things incorporated into “Mormon doctrine”. And, again in my own opinion, that same attitude is prevalent in the Church today.

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  13. Jeff Spector on September 10, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    “Mormon Doctrine” was a very useful book to me when I first joined the Church. It provided a significant amount of background on what Mormon Doctrine fundamentally was. As I matured in the Gospel, it became easier to distinguish between my own ideas on Mormon Doctrine and Elder McConkie. I appreciated his straight forward approach to the gospel, though somewhat authoritarian.

    When a friend showed me his frist edition ofthe book, my teeth just about fell out. When I caught one of my Stake Missionaries around 1984 teaching an investigator class with it (The first edition), the guy never taught again.

    I also don’t think you can hang all things you perceive wrong with the Church on him.

    His final talk in 1985 was one of the most moving I’ve ever heard.

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  14. Matthew on September 10, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    My complaint with BRM and Mormon Doctrine isn’t so much the doctrine he taught — there isn’t much in MD that doesn’t have an antecedent in JFS or Talmage. It’s the way he moralized belief even on doctrinal specifics. Talmage may have preached systematic doctrine, but BRM’s system was such that those who believed The Wrong Doctrines were contemptible fools who didn’t deserve salvation. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he contributed a good chunk to the exclusivism from which modern-day Mormonism is just now starting to back away.

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  15. Paul Toscano on September 10, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    I think we are not critical enough of church leaders like Bruce R. McConkie.

    I realize this sentiment may have little traction on this blog, given its source–an outspoken excommunicant. However, bear with me as I comment briefly on the following quotation and interior quotation:

    “Elder McConkie is often quoted as saying in a 1979 talk to Seminary and Institute teachers (from page 377)

    ‘Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    ‘…It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation….25′”

    I’ve never been convinced by this justification of the LDS hierarchy’s intransigence on extending priesthood to blacks for the following reasons:

    First, prior to Christ, the priesthood recognized by the tribes of Israel was passed down through the lineage of Aaron. No one was entitled to priesthood outside this lineage. It may have made sense then that, in a day when priesthood was bestowed by lineage, it could be deprived on the basis of lineage as well. However, upon the death of Jesus, the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom. Anyone could gaze directly into the Holy of Holies. The significance of this is stated in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Prior to Christ’s death priesthood was bestowed and possibly denied on the basis of lineage. After Christ’s death and resurrection, this same priesthood became available to all without reference to lineage. For in Christ lineage was subordinated to faith. The reception of priesthood, like all other blessings, became predicated solely on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Second, as a result of this change that happened 2000 years ago, Joseph Smith ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood both Elijah Able and Walker Lewis, both black me. This act alone eliminated any need for further “light and knowledge” as alleged by Elder McConkie.

    Third, the idea that the “curse of Cain” was a black skin is nowhere supported in scripture. The curse was a mark on Cain. A mark is a mark not a genetic pigmentation. Also, the death of Jesus marked an end to any such curse because it made salvation free to anyone that believed, male and female, bond and free, Jew or Gentile. This was the meaning of the ripped veil of the temple. All had access to the Holy of Holies by faith in the Redeemer, whose atonement, suffering, death, and resurrection removed all barriers to God that had been laid down both in the curse of Cain and in the Mosaic Law. This change in law and priesthood was spoken by Isaiah to the effect that not even a fool need err in the way of salvation. It was instantiated by the mediation and atonement of Jesus. It was clarified in the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was manifest in the ordinations of Able and Lewis by Joseph Smith.

    I’m wondering still why blacks had to wait until 1978, when the revelations contradicting depriving blacks of priesthood were as clear as a bell in Mormon scripture.

    Perhaps if we are full of prejudice, we need line upon line and precept upon precept because we have “babes to rule over us” as Isaiah said. Thus we find ourselves waiting for revelation, when it has already be given to the detriment of our spiritual lives and those who see as inferior.

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  16. Stephen R. Marsh on September 10, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    others who thought white bread was against the Word of Wisdom — specifically criticized in Mormon Doctrine, FYI.

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  17. jmb275 on September 10, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    Wow, look at me, commenting again!

    Anyway, good post MH. I’m not much of a fan of BRM, I admit it. But I do agree that we should also consider his tremendous contributions even as we consider the negative side-effects as well.

    To answer your questions:
    I liked what #1 NewlyHousewife said. I think our own personal ideas, convictions, imperfections very often dictate our revelations. Frankly, I don’t see how it could be any other way. It’s the way we are. And in that vein, I think DOM didn’t think it was time primarily because the membership of the church wasn’t ready for it. I think that’s sad, and it is really an early example of how we are today. We very often suspend bold doctrine or ideas (even if they’re true) in favor of not “hurting” those with more conservative ideas. Not always, but many times. This has been BKP’s mantra for many years – avoid telling hard truths or appropriately spin our history so we don’t damage testimonies.

    To put it bluntly, just like any institution, organization, or group of people, we need the old ones with crazy ideas to die off before we can effect the change we know to be the right thing.

    As for BRM’s role, I agree that he was doing the best he could with what he had. He just happen to have a very strong and dominant personality and we didn’t have an equally strong counterpart to provide a balance. We had no Henry Eyring to counteract our Joseph Fielding Smith.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on September 10, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    Well, if white bread is out, we’re all in trouble!

    Part of me agrees with Paul T that “where much is given, much is required,” or as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Are leaders sufficiently thoughtful in dispatching their stewardship? The answer is of course “no,” based on many examples, but I’m sure there’s a limit on how much anyone can anticipate the blowback of their actions; we are all blind to our own motives at times. As E. Oaks said in a recent conference here in Singapore, the mantle is always too big for the man or woman (and he did specifically include women).

    But I think there’s plenty of room for members to shoulder the blame, too, when ideas that are offensive to the Spirit (yeah, I’m going to go there), like racism and anti-Catholicism and creating hedges about the law, are accepted just because someone higher ranking voiced a prejudice formed and fostered in ignorance. Abdicating our personal responsibility for our opinions is not the path to godhood, or if it is, I don’t want to live on that person’s planet.

    I’ve also heard another defense of BRM that he at least took a stand. I’m not convinced by that either. The “stands” he took were wrapped up in family pride, popularizing wrong stances (like creationism) of his father in law, Joseph Fielding Smith. I suspect he did it in earnest, because he believed those stances to be correct, but he underestimated how much personal stake he had in his own family’s views being “correct,” and he overstepped his bounds frequently.

    I am also inclined to say bloggernacle favorite David O. McKay didn’t go far enough in correcting the overstepping. As he said in Rise of Modern Mormonism, he didn’t want to adversely impact the influence BRM had as a prominent leader by making the correction too public. Well, why not? The book contained over a thousand errors! Why not make the correction as public as the book was? Just as the bishop is responsible to correct misstatements made in sacrament meeting, when a book is published as more than mere opinion (under the presumptuous title of Mormon Doctrine), it was the sitting prophet’s reponsibility to correct it. I have long felt that Mormon Doctrine was a doctrinal coup d’etat, one that should have been met with equal force but was not.

    To Mormon Heretic’s point, that doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater (even though that is some foul bathwater). The Bible Dictionary is pretty good. Having the footnotes done on KJV makes gospel study easier, but isn’t great either as we’re now stuck with a less accurate translation. Yet, I don’t suppose that was avoidable at the time.

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  19. MH on September 10, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    Paul, let me be the first to give you a hearty welcome! Though you may not be a recognized member of the fold, I think your thoughts and mine are very similar on this topic. I don’t know if you saw my previous post on Using Scriptures to Debunk the Priesthood Ban. Alma Allred wrote an excellent chapter showing that we can’t use scriptures to support the ban. On that point, you, I, and McConkie all agree.

    Steve, I wasn’t sure about your comment on white bread, so I had to look it up. Mormon Doctrine specifically says

    Some unstable people become cranks with reference to this law of health. It should be understood that the Word of Wisdom is not the gospel, and the gospel is not the Word of Wisdom. As Paul said, ‘The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’ (Romans 14:17). There is no prohibition in Section 89, for instance, against the eating of white bread, using white flour, white sugar, cocoa, chocolate, eggs, milk, meat, or anything else, except items classified under the headings, tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor. As a matter of fact those who command that men should not eat meat, are not ordained of God, such counsel being listed by Paul as evidence of apostasy.

    On this point, I think McConkie’s position is well grounded. I don’t know which “cranks” he was referring to, but I don’t think it was any general authorities. So let’s make sure that we don’t blame McConkie for saying white bread is evil–he said just the opposite.

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  20. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 10, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    MH — exactly. Sorry I was too terse, a sin I compound with using a phone to access the site.

    Thank you for providing the larger context.

    Now, go look up “gospel hobbies.”

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  21. Paul 2 on September 10, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    To me, BRM’s legacy is that we expect what the church teaches to be crystal clear. He furthered the idea that there are answers to gospel questions, it just took bold leaders who would make it all clear. I think most members would have thought that Mormon Doctrine should be corrected when something was proven to be false, but instead it has been dumped. The dissatisfaction with the “I don’t know that we teach that” era we have been in since 1978 is that the church leaders are no longer willing to respond to doctrinal and historical questions and BRM left us with the feeling that it should be part of the job description.

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  22. hawkgrrrl on September 11, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    Still, McConkie calling anyone a crank for overzealousness is kinda ironic, n’est-ce pas?

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  23. Hedgehog on September 11, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    An interesting discussion. I have never read ‘Mormon Doctrine’, nor did we have a copy at home. In my teens I had a (very authoritarian) Bishop who seemed to regard it as a second handbook. Somehow or other I seem to have grown up with the view that books by GAs contained their own opinions, and consequently I avoided reading them at all. Was this because I didn’t want my conclusions to be contaminated by theirs, because I wanted to feel free to form my own views? Was this a reflection of my parents’ views, or was the absence of their books at home more a reflection of the cost? I don’t know. Even now the thought of reading a book by a GA makes me feel uncomfortable. Those I have now read (and I can only think of two), I began to read with an ‘arms length and massive pinch of salt’ mindset… I do recall, however, that as a teen in the 80s listening to conferences, my favourite Apostle was Marvin J. Ashton. I don’t remember why.

    I do think our leaders need to be very careful about what they say. By the time they get to GA level they must know that there are members who will take their every word to be truth. I’ve said before, but will mention again, that as a Bishop it is the thing that makes my brother the most nervous is that there are those who think that ‘because the Bishop said it…’. Well!

    Having said that Hawkgrrl I agree wholly with your comments:
    “But I think there’s plenty of room for members to shoulder the blame, too, when ideas that are offensive to the Spirit (yeah, I’m going to go there), like racism and anti-Catholicism and creating hedges about the law, are accepted just because someone higher ranking voiced a prejudice formed and fostered in ignorance. Abdicating our personal responsibility for our opinions is not the path to godhood, or if it is, I don’t want to live on that person’s planet.”

    Also on your:
    “I am also inclined to say bloggernacle favorite David O. McKay didn’t go far enough in correcting the overstepping. …. Just as the bishop is responsible to correct misstatements made in sacrament meeting, when a book is published as more than mere opinion (under the presumptuous title of Mormon Doctrine), it was the sitting prophet’s reponsibility to correct it.”
    I agree. They seem to put a lot of effort into presenting a united front, which often appears to have the effect of silencing more moderate views unfortunately. Would it be healthier if we saw the dynamics as more like those of the Roman Catholic Cardinals?

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  24. UnderCover Brother on September 11, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    I think NewlyHousewife has it. I think the reason why President McKay did not get the answer he wanted was due to the historical racial baggage he was carrying, whether traditional (curse of Cain/Ham) or theological (pre-existence). His heart was in the right place, but how can God respond if you have deeply embedded preconceived notions?

    To explain: Ed Kimball stated that President Kimball had to strip away all of the historical and theological notions he had been brought up to believe. It was only then that he could be receptive. Ed Kimball also wrote that President Romney stated that if it was up to President Romney he would have stuck with the then current policy and not changed it no matter the opposition. This gives an idea of what President Kimball was up against.

    Ed Kimball showed that President Kimball had 3 steps to go through:

    1) Strip himself from his upbringing, ‘…where prejudice to non-whites was the norm’;
    2) Untangle himself from the theological underpinnings of the policy where the Church felt it was God’s will that some men should not hold the Priesthood due to valour in the pre-existence, curse of Ham/Cain, etc; and
    3) Ask God whether the time was right to lift the Temple/Priesthood ban.

    I believe that once President Kimball took the first 2, he was able to truly go to the 3rd. President McKay could not do 1 & 2, hence the problem with 3. How can you get an answer to number 3 if you still believe that some were less valiant, or that you have a level of prejudice to non-whites? This was why the time was right for one and not right for the other.

    Although President Hinckley was later very clear on the position of the Church (step 1), this highlighted another issue. President Kimball went through steps 1, 2 & 3, but he asked the FP and Q12 to only take step 3 with him. President Romney’s comments fit this perfectly – he could accept step 3 while not having to strip himself in step 1 or untangle himself in step 2. I think Elder McConkie also fits President Romney’s profile so he felt he had no reason to update Mormon Doctrine (step 2). Because President Kimball did not ask the FP and Q12 to walk with him through steps 1 & 2, the repercussions of that decision are still being felt now. Like the theological underpinnings of OD1 have never been refuted, neither have the theological underpinnings of OD2 been officially refuted through step 2. Hence Professor Bott’s comments.

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  25. Bob on September 11, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    “They seem to put a lot of effort into presenting a united front…”.
    If they did, they failed. I think it was well known by the members, the GAs were split into two camps, hardliners and McKay people. I believe this dying generation took it’s split with it.

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  26. UnderCover Brother on September 11, 2012 at 3:54 AM

    #23 Paul 2:

    I think the problem is that the book, ‘Mormon Doctrine’ has not been ‘dumped’. A quick check on this year’s Sunday school lessons still has quotes from the book (lessons 12, 24, 30, for example). So it’s still among us.

    To some it is the greatest anti-Mormon literature ever written. To others it is a tour de force. I believe these were done for the best of intentions, but like the ’14 Fundamentals’ talk, the ‘When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done’ letter to Ward Teachers and the ‘doctrinal’ underpinnings around the Temple/Priesthood ban policy, ‘Mormon Doctrine’ has never been publically repudiated by the FP or Q12. This has caused some serious blow-back to the Church members even now.

    I sat in Priesthood a year or so ago and the lesson that day was on the ’14 Fundamentals’. The second I heard what the subject was I knew there was going to be trouble. The teacher felt that because it was mentioned twice in the previous conference it must be important to us to understand and follow. We get to the 4th one – ‘The prophet will never lead the Church astray.’ By this time, I’m shaking with rage. The teacher states that he knows this to be true; we should always follow the prophet and asks everyone to put their hand up if they agree with him. Everyone does so, bar one. Anyone disagree? I put my hand up and mention that this statement is simply not supported in scripture.

    Wow! I had ex-Bishops coming up against me. Other brethren were stunned I would make such a statement, after all it is in the Ensign. That’s pretty much scripture, isn’t it? And that was at the 4th Fundamental. Only another ten to go in the lesson.

    After the lesson I took the teacher aside and walked him through the history of the talk, starting at February 26, 1980 when the original talk was given. By the time I got to the point where President Kimball called him in twice over the matter the teacher’s response was, ‘Brother, you are shaking my testimony’.

    President Benson himself said when giving the talk:

    ‘I testify that these fourteen fundamentals in following the living prophet are true. If we want to know how well we stand with the Lord, then let us ask ourselves how well we stand with His mortal captain. How closely do our lives harmonize with the words of the Lord’s anointed–the living prophet, the President of the Church, and with the Quorum of the First Presidency?’

    What more could I say? President Benson’s public words overruled mine even though I tried to explain President Kimball’s private position on the talk.

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  27. Howard on September 11, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    I liked BRM but two sentences told me much more about who he was than his entire book: “It is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent.” I filter everything he ever said through this unenlightened condescending egotistical mindset.

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  28. Paul 2 on September 11, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    Dear UnderCover, I didn’t explain myself very well. What I meant is that I was brought up with the assumption that the church leaders knew the answers to gospel questions. Now no authority figure fills the role of answering questions. For example it is now clear that we as a people didn’t understand who the majority of Native Americans were and we didn’t understand who black people were. No one now publicly addresses issues and fills the role that JFS/BRM filled. So we get almost invisible changes in teachings or practice and it is usually not clear who is making the changes or why.

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  29. MH on September 11, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    I recently purchased a used copy of Mormon Doctrine (2nd edition, circa 1970s) for about 5 bucks. I want to get a copy of the 1st edition to compare the differences. On Amazon, the 1st edition (1958) is $150-$330. Wow. It’s a collector’s item.

    UnderCover Brother,

    I think your comment 24 is excellent. Though Pres McKay said the ban was policy, not doctrine as early as the 1950s, he still felt that the ban was the result of decisions in the pre-mortal life. Same with McConkie, which is why he never fixed Mormon Doctrine to remove those references. Yes, the ban is not scriptural, but speculative in nature, and Bruce’s position was quite in line with McKay’s thinking on the idea.

    What’s significant to me is that a large problem for general authorities was interracial marriage. McKay, Lee, and Kimball all were against it. To me, the most interesting thing is that even though the ban was rescinded under Kimball, he still said that interracial marriage should be avoided. So he didn’t entirely remove his cultural upbringing. (It should be noted that Abraham Lincoln endorsed segregation and wanted blacks returned to Africa, so he wasn’t exactly enlightened despite the Emancipation Proclamation.)

    As for a united front, the more I read about the McKay presidency, it is clear to me that there were some rather large divisions on many issues. People like to note that Brown was for removing the ban, while Lee was against, but there were other issues as well. Henry D. Moyle almost put the church into bankruptcy with his massive deficit spending on church buildings. It was N ELdon Tanner that corrected church finances and put the church on financial footing. It should also be noted that Lee and Joseph Fielding Smith effectively muzzled Benson after McKay died, so politics was quite a divisive issue as well. It has been astonishing to learn that there has been so much hostility among the apostles on certain issues. But I think Pres. Kimball changed unity for the good in his approach to the priesthood/temple ban.

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  30. UnderCover Brother on September 11, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    # 29 MH:

    Interesting comment regarding the general authorities’ problem of interracial marriage. Funny how that seems to be a common thread all the way back to Brother Brigham.

    I’m pretty sure it was Ed Kimball that said President Kimball’s aversion was due to the effect on the children of mixed marriages and how they would potentially be treated, rather than Brother Brigham’s more extreme statement that, ‘… any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood …’ and him saying it in the name of the Lord. You can then imagine the shock of building a Temple in Brazil and seeing intermarriage everywhere.

    Like you, I agree President Kimball’s approach to change was for the greater good.

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  31. Anonymous on September 11, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    Is it possible to contact you by email? I have something you may be interested in.

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  32. mh on September 11, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    Sure. Email me at Mormon heretic at gmail dot com.

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  33. Hedgehog on September 12, 2012 at 2:29 AM

    #25 Bob
    I wrote in the present tense Bob. I was (just) alive when David O MacKay was president, but am old enough to remember only President Kimball onwards. The united front is all I’ve seen.
    As to whether the divisions in the Apostles prior to President Kimball were well known outside Utah, and more particularly worldwide, I don’t know. I had never come across it until this year, so it was news to me. In making my comment I was pondering on the evolution debacle. The anti-evolution camp seemed to have held the day where I grew up at any rate… It would have been good to know that another view existed, as I was growing up.
    I would be interested for those of you who have observed both the divisions and the united front, and apparently prefer the latter (MH, Undercover Brother), to explain why.

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  34. MH on September 12, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    Hedgehog, I suspect we’re about the same age. I also only remember Kimball onwards. The McKay biography goes into great deal about the different positions on civil rights in the 1960s. Elder Benson was strongly against civil rights, practically a member of the John Birch Society, called the civil rights movement a communist conspiracy, and even Eisenhower was a communist. He tried to enlist McKay, but while McKay held similar views as Benson, he wasn’t as extreme. McKay also allowed other brethren to offer rebuttals. Elder Hugh B. Brown often gave a different view of things. For example, in the “Profile of a Prophet” speech that is a famous Brown speech, Brown warned against political extremism, and those that call into question the patriotism of others. It was a veiled reference to Benson. Senator Ralph Harding of Idaho also called Benson on the carpet on the floor of Congress for his denunciation of Eisenhower. I wrote a bit about it at Benson, Eisenhower, and Communism.

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  35. Ray on September 12, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    My mother was a secretary to Pres. McKay for a short time, so I grew up knowing the apostles didn’t agree about everything. She never shared confidential information with us, but we knew they “discussed” some things heatedly and passionately at times.

    #24 – UCB, I really like that comment. It fits what I know of the process and feels good to both my heart and my mind.

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  36. Ray on September 12, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    Oh, and I think #24 highlights the difficulty in changing pre-conceived notions. I can’t castigate others for not being able to jettison things they’ve believed for a long time when it’s not easy for me to do it myself.

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