David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

August 16, 2005 | 78 comments
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David O. McKay presented a dramatic contrast to his predecessors: an athletic, movie-star-handsome, clean-shaven figure who often wore a white double-breasted suit; contrasted to the dark-suited, bearded polygamists (or, in the case of George Albert Smith, son of a polygamist) who preceded him as Church President ever since Joseph Smith. In an age prior to professional image-makers, he instinctively grasped the importance of appearance, and coupled it to the substance of a professional educator to become an icon of Mormonism whose persona did much to change the negative image of the Church in much of the world.

Clare Middlemiss, President McKay’s secretary for 35 years, spent tens of thousands of hours of her own time in compiling an unprecedented record of his activities, well over 100,000 pages, with the intent of writing his biography. While he was alive, however, she didn’t have the time to write it, and following his death her own health deteriorated. Not long before she died, she conveyed all of her papers to her nephew, Wm. Robert Wright, co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. In addition to her papers and other archival sources, we drew on some 200 interviews that we conducted with those who had known and worked with David O. McKay. The result is an administrative biography, primarily covering his presidential years, that presents in great detail the important thoughts, events and personalities that transformed Mormonism from a provincial-thinking Great Basin organization into a global church.

The chapter headings convey the breadth of the book: Prophet and Man; Revelation and Prophecy; Free Agency and Tolerance; Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood; Ecumenical Outreach; Radio and Television Broadcasting; Correlation and Church Administration; The Education System; The Building Program; The Missionary Program; Temple Building; Confrontation with Communism; Politics and the Church; An International Church; Final Years; Epilogue. The sheer mass of primary source material that comprised the final database (15,000 pages) ensured that much in-depth discussion would have to take place beyond the printed pages.

I have been invited to be a guest blogger at Times and Seasons, and welcome discussion of topics in or related to the McKay book.

Greg Prince

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78 Responses to David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

  1. Aaron Brown on August 16, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    Brother Prince,

    I’ve just finished reading your chapter on the Building Program. Now that the book is in print, have you learned anything additional regarding the “San Jose” problem that President McKay alludes to, but does not elaborate upon?

    Aaron B

  2. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    No. The diaries and other materials we researched never specified what it was. Of greater concern seemed to be a desire on the part of the committee, of which Thorpe Isaacson was a member and apparent catalyst, to bring about a general reorganization of the Building Committee. And that was the outcome. As the book states, it is unfortunate that the move was made so quickly, as N. Eldon Tanner’s calm hand appears to have put the ship on an even keel.

  3. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Two comments on posts to the other link, “Welcome Gregory Prince.”

    Carrie: It’s hard to pin down the transition to DOM’s “look.” It certainly didn’t derive from those around him, nor does it appear to have been an attempt to make any kind of contrary fashion statement. It was just the natural expression of who he was.

    Clark: Each printing has been 2,500 copies. That’s standard for the University of Utah Press, and probably for many academic publishers.

  4. Aaron Brown on August 16, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    How has the book been received — by the membership, by the Church, etc. — to the extent that you can gauge this? Your preface anticipates that some readers will be uncomfortable by your frank treatment of certain issues (no surprise there). Has this proved to be as true as you thought, or less so, or more so? (I have read Julie’s review here at T&S, but otherwise, haven’t read anyone else’s reaction).

    Aaron B

  5. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    The comments and formal reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The only equivocal review was Dennis Lythgoe’s in the Deseret News, and that one could be read either way. Dennis has told others, since it was published, that he quite liked the book. I have been to Utah several times since the book was published (I live in Maryland), and I am amazed at the number of people I meet who have either read the entire book or are planning to do so. Most satisfying has been feedback I have received from members of the McKay, Wilkinson, Moyle and Woodbury families, all of whom have been highly complimentary.

  6. Kevin Barney on August 16, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    I bought the book at Vermont MHA, and was glad I did, because I later kept hearing that bookstores were out of them and they were hard to find. I haven’t started reading ityet (it’s in my to read pile), but I did read the material on DOM’s attitudes towards marriage in preparation for a priesthood lesson I had to teach. I’m looking forward to reading the book (based largely on Julie’s review).

  7. Clark on August 16, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Nit pick on the post unrelated to content. Most browsers don’t handle extended characters in HTML and put up funny looking characters. Run it through this character converter to put them in their proper HTML format that will display on all browsers.

  8. Clark on August 16, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Back to content. Someone mentioned this in the other thread. But in certain ways Pres. McKay is the first figure who “looked” modern in appearance. That is we have the “funny looking” GA’s from the 19th and early 20th century with their odd ZZ Top beards. Then there was that intermediate period. Then you have Pres. McKay.

    I’m not sure there’s any significance to that beyond changing styles and fashions in the United States. But I do wonder what your thoughts are on this.

  9. Matt Bowman on August 16, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    I also am glad I bought the book in Vermont; a couple of friends of mine in DC were having a terrible time finding it until Greg himself showed up at a speech with a box of copies.

    As to the beard thing – a friend of mine at the University of Utah has been contemplating a paper on this for a while, and we bantered about it recently. He thinks that beards were originally adopted for reasons of pure fashion around the Civil War, but gradually, as Utah became increasingly estranged from the rest of the Union, became a self-consciously Old Testament statement indicating distance from the modern represented by the rest of the US. Of course, Rutherford B. Hayes had a beard Lorenzo Snow could have been proud of, but I think there might be something there. There is an _excellent_ photograph somewhere of, I believe, Joseph Smith, Sr. (or maybe another patriarch from later on in the nineteenth century), wrapped in what appears to be a robe, holding a cane, with absolutely wild hair and beard. Very Ten Commandments.

    Greg – I asked this of you at the DC visitor’s center presentation, but would be interested in any more specific thoughts you might have. Have you seen any evidence that this project has sparked increased interest in the twentieth century among Mormon historians? Are there any projects you’re aware of that will make use of the Middlemass collection, now that it’s at the U?

  10. lyle stamps on August 16, 2005 at 6:42 pm

    Yeah…why did DO’M have to mess up a good thing for beard growers everywhere? No respect for tradition…you’d think he would have at least had LDS art of God & Savior during his tenure reflect a ‘shaved’ look. Otherwise…why change how the Prophet looks to mirror the World rather than his bosses?

  11. Clark on August 16, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    I’m glad someone else didn’t think it an amazingly dumb and superficial question. (grin)

  12. Julie in Austin on August 16, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Gee, guys, here we have the most significant work in 20th Century LDS history ever written and all we can talk about is David O. McKay’s clothes and hair . . . Carrie, you’ve been a bad influence on all of us!

    A few questions:

    (1) Several people in the comments on my review found an ethical question in both Middlemiss’s copying of the papers and your use of them. Thoughts on this?

    (2) So, in ten words or less, what was in the other 129,977 pages of papers that didn’t make it into the book? Seriously, though, I cannot really fathom how much work must have gone into combing through those papers. How did you decide what to include and exclude? Did you feel that the book represented all that you feel essential to McKay’s presidency, or would/could you have written another 500 pages if it were possible?

  13. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Clark and Matt: You have to factor into your thinking that McKay NEVER wore a beard, so it certainly wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing when he became either an Apostle or Church President. He did wear a mustache for several years; I’m not sure when he shaved it.

    Matt: It’s too soon to tell what other 20th century projects might be catalyzed by the McKay book. When you consider that only three of the papers given at MHA this year dealt with the 20th century church, there’s plenty of room for newcomers. I know that Newell Bringhurst has already made extensive use of our papers (and Clare’s) at the Marriott Library (U of U), in anticipation of a second edition of his book. I’m sure others will show up once they realize the depth and breadth of the papers, and the fact that they are openly available (or will be as soon as the register is completed).

    On a related note, the University of Utah Press got back into the business of publishing Mormon-related books with the McKay biography. They have already published another McKay book (Mary Jane Woodger’s on DOM’s letters to his wife) and have yet another in the works (Anne Marie Wright’s analysis of DOM’s speeches). Furthermore, they have had several serious inquiries from authors who like the press, like the feel and content of the McKay book, and want to pursue the possibility of publishing their books there. The press, in turn, has indicated a strong desire to make 20th century Mormon studies a major emphasis.

  14. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    Julie: You raise two questions. The first concerns the ethics of using Clare’s record. President McKay said on several occasions, both to Clare and to others, the she literally “saved” his life–that had it not been for her monumental efforts spanning over three decades, there would have been a small fraction of the records she amassed. He knew she was writing his biography (or wanted to do so), and was protective of her to the extent of denying access to another author who also wanted to do his biography. That was Merlo Pusey, Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for his biography of Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes) and longtime editorial writer for the Washington Post. Merlo took a liking to me shortly after we moved to Maryland, and told me about his request. That was many years before I began the McKay project (which was many years after Merlo died), and when I began the project I saw an entry in the McKay diaries that documented his unsuccessful attempt.

    Clare had gone as far as beginning to sort some of her material by subject matter, by the time her health deteriorated to the point that she could no longer work on the project. When she realized that her dream of writing the biography would not be realized, she entrusted her entire record to one of her nephews, Bob Wright, who is the co-author of the book. Bob feels that the result would be pleasing both to Clare and President McKay. That’s quite satisfactory for me–how could one ask for a better endorsement?

    Your second question relates to the mass of information that did not get into the book. As it is, it is a hefty tome. We actually cheated a bit and made it thinner by making it larger in length and width, so as not to make it too intimidating. A multi-volume biography would have been out of the question, for the same reason. Thus the dilemma of choosing what to leave in, and what to leave out.

    It turned out that those decisions were much easier than I had thought, once I had spent eight years of hard labor to compile and sort the data base. I had not even sketched out a table of contents until the compilation was completed and subdivided by subject. I wound up with about one hundred subject files, some of them quite massive (over 1,000 pages each). Once those were complete, I stepped back and asked a simple question: What is important? That question proved to be quite easy to answer. The second question dealt with form: How do we make it interesting? That drove the basic format of a topical approach, rather than a chronological one. Each chapter tells a story, and we tried to tell it both honestly and interestingly. The reader will judge. In the process, we neither sensationalized anything, nor swept anything of importance under the rug.

  15. Aaron Brown on August 16, 2005 at 7:46 pm

    I purchased Dan Vogel’s biography of Joseph Smith the same day I purchased this book. I was surprised to find that, although they were published by two different presses, that they both seemed unusually large for academic biographies (they have virtually identical dimensions). I commented to my wife that “Gee, it looks like I bought two handsome tomes for display on the coffee table,” even though I didn’t. What’s going on? If this trend continues, I’m going to have trouble fitting Mormon Studies stuff on the bookshelf.

    Aaron B

  16. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 7:47 pm

    Aaron: It turns out there is more than one way to make one’s book “stand out.”

  17. J. Stapley on August 16, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Count me as one who has not read the book, yet will in the next couple of months (on the list).

    I was interested in Don Harwell’s characteriazation of President McKay. I firmly admire him and his conviction. I think most everyone in this forum would agree that everyone, including prophets, are a product of their time and place. Do you foresee a time when such biases may be more formally recognized on an institutional basis?

  18. Carrie Lundell on August 16, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    Julie in Austin – My work is done.

  19. RoastedTomatoes on August 16, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I’ve been unable to get a copy of the book yet, as I’ve been working in South America and my local libreria doesn’t stock too many Mormon Studies titles (you should get on top of this with your publisher, Greg! After all, there are at least 2-3 sales in Buenos Aires that you’re probably missing out on.) Actually, I wish university presses would get to the point of publishing these things in ebook format as well as in paper–but that’s a complaint for another day.

    So, bearing in mind that I haven’t yet seen the book, I’d like to ask about an interpretation related to McKay offered by D. Michael Quinn in his second Mormon Hierarchy book. Quinn (as I recall from reading the book a couple of years ago) suggests that McKay was often easily persuaded by virtually anyone who could manage to meet with him alone, such that policy ended up being set in part by who managed to speak with him last. I think Quinn tends to spin this in a somewhat more negative light than necessary, even if it’s exactly correct: there’s something to be said for a guy who doesn’t bulldoze people. But what I’d like to ask is what your take is with respect to Quinn’s argument on this.

  20. MDS on August 16, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    I tried to get a copy from the downtown Deseret Book, but they were out. Barnes and Noble in Bountiful had several. I bought one for my Dad for Fathers Day, hoping that he would read it quickly so I could then borrow his copy. Unfortunately, he’s had a long, fun summer that has included cross-country jaunts, fishing, and not as much David O. McKay as I had wanted. I’ll get it eventually.

  21. Clark on August 16, 2005 at 8:32 pm

    Oooh. Good question RT. What is your view of Quinn’s Extensions of Power?

  22. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    RT: I think Quinn over-simplified the issue. McKay was susceptible to changing his mind, sometimes several times (such as the attempt to move Ricks College to Idaho Falls), but generally it was due to new information that caused him to rethink his prior position. Some have suggested that he was wishy-washy, but this was anything but the case. Remember, he was a Scot at heart (and by genetics), and had a very firm backbone.

  23. Travis on August 16, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    Brother Prince – One of the things in the biography that I’m still trying to get my mind around is the very significant difference of opinion (related to policy, doctrine, and politics) between and among members of the 12 apostles and the 1st Presidency. The 1st Presidency and the 12 have shown a very unified front in my lifetime (or, at least, as long as I’ve been aware of their words/actions) and this was a sometimes shocking thing to see. This leads me to some questions:

    1. Did you encounter any resistance from Church leaders to the idea of your writing this book, given its potential to show some of these differences? Any complaints from Church leaders after the book came out because of the very human portrait of these leaders and their bumping into each other in sometimes less-than-gentle ways?

    2. It seemed to me that President McKay was not overly concerned about these sometimes sharp differences of opinion. Did you come across evidence in your research that you didn’t include in the book that suggested he actually did feel concern about this? I realize that your chapter on President McKay’s strong support for agency and tolerance certainly suggests that his “big tent” sensibilities may have left him unbothered by these differences. Did you come across any evidence to suggest that other members of the 12 or 1st Presidency felt these differences were a problem?

    3. I’m curious about the role revelation or spiritual promptings played in these differences of opinion (either by their presence or absence). You noted in the biography, from time to time, when President McKay or another Church leader felt a spiritual impression or similar divine guidance in favor of a position or decision. You also noted a few times when President McKay stated that in the absence of divine guidance he would not act or make a particular decision. Did you ever come across instances where leaders claimed conflicting spiritual promptings? Or discussions where leaders questioned the meaning of spiritual promptings, etc.? I suppose what I’m really driving at is how these men tried to understand what the Lord wanted in a given situation, how they tried to understand the spiritual promptings they received, etc. I realize these are the kind of sacred things that may not have been much in the papers and that, as a result you may not have much of an answer.

    Thanks in advance.

  24. jimbob on August 16, 2005 at 9:25 pm

    Follow up comment to RT’s question: I’ve always felt that Quinn was a little over-infatuated with Clark, and set up a Clark vs. McKay dichotomy in his books because of the long history the two shared (plus that whole “demotion” thing). I think he painted Clark as the better administrator and the real backbone of the church, thereby relegating McKay to the smiling face on the increasingly corporate face of the church. Having Quinn a couple of times on this issue (Extensions and Clark’s biography), it was refreshing to read your McKay as being less of the wishy-washy decisionmaker I’d kind of had in my mind, and more of a principled pragmatist.

    Now a question about your sources: where Middlemiss was responsible for so much of the available material to research, did you ever wonder about her objectivity with McKay? How much did you feel like you needed to discount what she wrote based on the fact that she may have been an unreliable storyteller and document compiler herself?

  25. John Mansfield on August 16, 2005 at 9:38 pm

    The Sunday School course for the youth this year has been The Presidents of the Church. The last few weeks’ lessons were based on President McKay. After months discussing prophets from the past, I wanted to bring in someone who could share personal thoughts of McKay’s role as leader of the Church. It was quite surprising that despite many phone calls I could find none in my ward with any memory of him leading the Church. All anyone could say was “Well, he was the President of the Church when I was a girl. I don’t really remember anything about him.” I was so sure someone in her late 50s or 60s would remember particular things about him and perhaps feel a connection to a past leader, but he is already as much a figure from the past as Heber J. Grant.

    I am glad the 200 interviews could be conducted while that was still possible. Also, I wonder how active before the Church David O. McKay was in his last decade of life.

  26. ed on August 16, 2005 at 9:38 pm

    Greg Prince gave a DC visitor’s center presentation and I missed it? Dang.

    I have only started reading the book, but I have found it strangely inspiring, moreso than any other biography of a church leader that I’ve read. Somehow it makes me want to be a better person. I’m excited to get to the parts on church administration.

    I’m not surprised that people have asked about Pres. McKay’s appearance…it really was one of the most striking things about him. I love the pictures of him in his Colonel Sanders suit with his long hair.

    I hope Brother Prince will write something about the development of concepts of priesthood authority before his guest blogging stint is over.

  27. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    Travis: In response to your inquiries:

    1. Not only was there no resistance, there was excellent cooperation on two levels. The first was the Church Historical Department, which could not have been more cooperative. The second was our interviews with General Authorities called by David O. McKay (albeit there are very few of these still living, and only three currently serving as General Authorities.) We interviewed nearly all of them, including Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, Marion D. Hanks, Paul H. Dunn, Robert S. Simpson, and Bernard K. Brockbank. Most of these, including President Hinckley, are quoted in the book on the basis of those interviews. This is not to imply that they were endorsing the book, for it is their policy (with which I strongly agree) not to endorse books that have not been commissioned by the Church. Nonetheless, they were aware of the project nearly from the start (we interviewed President Hinckley in 1996), and there has never been a hint of interference with it.

    2. President McKay rarely discussed feelings and motives in his diary entries, and the record is silent on the question you raise. The interaction between a Church President and those around him–the counselors in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve–tends to reflect two things, the personality of the President and the organizational structure of the Church. It appears to me that each President brings a distinctive personality to the task, so one must be careful in generalizing. Also of great importance in understanding the administration of President McKay is the realization that all roads led to the First Presidency in those days. That is, members of the Quorum of the Twelve did not have direct line authority over any of the auxiliaries, as but one example. In the decades following McKay’s death, there has been a gradual but dramatic shift of responsibility to the Twelve, who now have direct supervision over nearly all the functions of church government. (President Hinckley commented on this, and his comments are included in the Epilogue.) One can easily see how the manner by which decisions are made might have shifted in the process. Some of the Twelve were, indeed, less than thrilled with the way some of the decisions were made by McKay. Examples of this are in the book, although I don’t (and won’t) sensationalize them.

    3. This is a good question, but there are very few data points to enlighten us. What I can say is that I have not seen a single instance where either McKay’s counselors or a member of the Twelve challenged him on a decision. There was no question in their minds what the role of the Prophet was, and whatever the discussion might have been before he announced his decision, it faded once he announced it.

  28. Greg Prince on August 16, 2005 at 11:57 pm

    jimbob: Your question about Clare’s reliability has been asked by many others. Our approach from the outset was to consider her record, which included the “David O. McKay Diaries”, to be but one source (albeit the crucial one). The majority of the primary source material that was the basis of the final database for the book (15,000 pages) was from sources OTHER than the diaries. This gave us thousands of independent data points that we could cross-check against hers. When all the analysis was completed, we saw that she was a remarkably accurate observer. Indeed, where she made comments in the diaries, she prefaced them by the statement: “Note by CM:”

  29. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 12:03 am

    John: Regarding your question about McKay’s level of activity in the last decade of his life, his physical activities began to tail off by the early 1960’s. Nonetheless, he continued to attend General Conferences for several years after that, although he made more and more use of his sons to read his talks. One of the people we interviewed was his personal physician, who said that mentally he was sharp until a few weeks prior to his death (a comment seconded by his housekeeper), even though his physical mobility tailed off. Even near the end, he showed remarkable lucidity.

  30. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 12:05 am

    ed: I’ll try to comment on your question about the development of concepts of priesthood authority, but ask that you be a bit more specific.

  31. Travis on August 17, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Thank you for your responses to my questions. I love this Q&A stuff.

    One of the things that I found very interesting in the chapter on Temple building was President McKay’s willingness to change the “mechanics” (as he called them) of the endowment ceremony, albeit after years of study and thought. This section is packed with interesting details, but is agonizingly brief. Is there anything else you can add (that would be appropriate for this forum) about President McKay’s efforts in this regard?

    In the last paragraph of this section you quote the minutes of a meeting President McKay held with a group of Stake Presidents which summarize his explanations in the meeting of the changes and the rationale for them. Were there any documents that contained the substance of his explanations? My experience with the temple only goes back about 14 years and so the idea of changing the “mechanics” is a new one for me. This section of the biography suggests that in some ways the endowment is a living/evolving ceremony. I’ve not done much reading/research on this question in other sources and intend to do so. (I’d appreciate suggestions you or others may have on good places to go for this kind of history). But I would love to see any additional detail you can add on this point.

  32. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 9:06 am

    Travis: The McKay records, not surprisingly, do not give details of any changes he made. To me, the real story is his willingness to change something that many Latter-day Saints assume (incorrectly) to have been immutable, with the goal of making it more accessible to Church members. Your characterization of it as a “living/evolving ceremony” is correct. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the earliest years of LDS temple theology, which began in 1831 with the Saints’ departure from New York State in order to receive an endowment of “power from on high” in Ohio. I treat the Joseph Smith period, when most of the evolution took place, in my first book, Power from On High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, which is still in print.

  33. texasviolinist on August 17, 2005 at 10:25 am

    I haven’t seen the book yet but I grew up in a home that felt some of the force of President McKay’s will and vision. My father was an early faculty member at Church College of Hawaii. This college (now BYU-Hawaii which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year) was a fulfillment of David O. McKay’s prophetic vision.

    I see the continuation of this vision in the Perpetual Education Fund.

  34. RoastedTomatoes on August 17, 2005 at 10:42 am

    By the way, I think the “Power from On High” book is excellent–fully recommended to anyone. This is one of my favorite Mormon history books! So, for my legions of teenage fans, get that book and read it…

    Greg, a question: I listened to the podcast interview that you did with John Dehlin about this book. In it, you emphasized that McKay was one of the people who really started the non-US growth of the church and the construction of temples outside the Mormon Corridor region. It’s interesting that these two themes (growth in international membership, construction of temples everywhere) are two of the major emphases of Gordon B. Hinckley’s period of leadership. To what extent do you see the Hinckley period as an extension of the McKay period?

    On the other hand, a third theme of the Hinckley years (broadly understood) has been intense church political engagement in a range of different issues, defined to be moral rather than political. These have included a possibility definitive organizational and mobilizing contribution to the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, efforts against legal gambling, various efforts against same-sex marriage, and some efforts against anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians. Does this kind of political involvement have a precedent in the McKay years? How would McKay have felt about this aspect of the last 25 years or so in the church?

    By the way, I hope this discussion is as much fun for you, Greg, as it is for me to read.

  35. Davis Bell on August 17, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Wow, Greg, very good of you to participate so actively.

    I’ve not read the book, but plan on doing so soon. From the book reviews I’ve read, McKay seems to have been very tolerant and open-minded, particularly regarding politics and doctrine. Who of the current Apostles (including the First Presidency) do you think most closely mirror his views and style? Also, how do you think he would regard the modern Church?

  36. Elisabeth on August 17, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    I’ve read some of this book, and I’ve found it extremely interesting. My husband and I had two very different reactions to the book, however. While Travis found the portrayal of David O McKay faith affirming, I found it disturbing that the righteous men guiding the Church were greatly influenced by the social beliefs of their day, including racism and a general paranoia about communists taking over the world.

    Reading this book made me wonder to what extent the gospel helps us transcend these limiting ideas that seem to be a product of our culture and society, and to what extent we, and perhaps more importantly, the leaders of the church, are hampered by our own personal views and opinions as we strive to live a Christ-like life.

    Thanks to Greg Prince for participating here – it’s exciting to learn more about this important book directly from the author himself.

  37. Paul on August 17, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    I would like to add my comments to ed’s. I find the book and the persona of President McKay prompting me to be better. Not to be perfect, at least not yet, but to be better. The truth, despite its sometimes unseemly side, or maybe because of it, has a way of doing that.

  38. Travis on August 17, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    Again, thanks for your answers, Bro. Prince (esp. the suggestion re “Power from On High”).

    As I read the biography it was interesting to me the way uncommissioned/unofficial books by Bruce McConkie and Joseph F. Smith
    became seminal works influencing how members of the Church understand what the “doctrine” of the Church is–despite
    statements by President McKay and members of the 12 that they disagreed with important (and in BRM’s case, numerous) doctrinal opinions in the books. The rationale given in the biography for President McKay’s decsion not to issue a public statement that these were not the official doctrines of the Church and that they may be incorrect was that President McKay didn’t want to undermine the credibility/authority of these men in the eyes of Church members. Later in the book you point out examples of President McKay perhaps being caught off guard at how the modern media could amplify/disseminate widely his statements. I find it surprising that President McKay could be attuned to the effect that his own statements would have on the thoughts/beliefs of Church members, but that he would not make the logical connection that the statements (and writings) of other General Authorities would have a similar impact. It seems like a contradiction because he clearly didn’t agree with the writings of Smith and McConkie and was concerned that they not be construed as the official doctrine of the Church. Can you comment on this at all?

    2.

  39. Mike on August 17, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    s

  40. Mike on August 17, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    This book about David O McKay is by far the best book I have read in a very long time. Thank you for your part in seeing it get published.

    I think the reason that David O. McKay had such a high tolerance for diversity of thought in those around him was because he had so much confidence in his own capacity to lead and he knew that in the end he could get most people to follow him. He was a man of rock hard integrity to his principles, but these principles included respect for the free agency in others, never wanting to embarass a fellow church leader in public, a willingness to consider further evidence and change his opinion, if needed. He understood the difference between integrity and his inherited Scottish stubbornness.

    I think David O. McKay was more a product of the 19th century (born in 1873) and was not as skillful with larger church government bureaucracies as with smaller committees, common people and horses. My take on his dress and hair was again the result of his self confidence and comfort being who he was. He was very old by the end of his life in a time with somewhat less than the current excellent medical care and he had to surround himself with many others to help him carry the burdens. I wish we had another like him.

    My mother worked for the church as a secretary in the 1950’s. She has moderate dementia now and it pains me that I can not go through this book with her page by page and ask her what she thought. She was highly opinionated and critical in her time, but all she remembers is that when David O. McKay came to work every day, he often would give the young secretaries a very fatherly hug and tell them that he appreciated their hard work and they were the best.

    Now she can not remember anything else about him. My dad remembers clearly many things from that time in their lives. He remembered Miss Middlemiss as a woman of near infinite attention to detail, quite the opposite of a story teller. Honest and fair to a fault and demanding but not difficult to work with. He said anything she wrote or did would be “completely accurate.” She was one of the greatest women he ever met and completely honest and reliable and transparent in her motives to serve her boss. She believed that David O. McKay was one of the greatest men to ever live and that a straightforward presentation of the simple truth of what he did would prove it. She was not a complex person with a hidden agenda and had no axes to grind.

    My dad is somewhat colorful, cranky and not often complimentary of most church leaders or people in general, although he is a lifelong (79 years old) active and loyal member to the bone. For example, he described Harold B. Lee as mean and onery and humorless, based on how he perceived Lee treated the young secretaries (like my mom) of no rank. He can go down the list and describe personal weaknesses for just about every one of the church leaders of the time and do humorous impersonations of them. But he has nothing but praise for David O. McKay and for his secretary Miss Middlemiss, which is rather out of character for my dad. He will probably not read this book but I have discussed some of the contents of the chapters with him and he thinks the book is right on target from what he can recall.

    We can speculate why but you will not find much anti-mormon material about David O. McKay. I think it was because he genuinely loved his enemies as fellow human beings and children of our Father in a way that they could feel it.

  41. ryan on August 17, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I read the DOM book about a month ago and thought it was well worth it. I enjoyed the topical exploration, but felt at times I still didn’t get the whole DOM as much as a reaction to criticism or controversy, and think this may be related to a lack of exploration and analysis of his teachings and doctrinal emphasis. I read that there is a project in the works addressing that though from a previous post, and am getting impressions from the priesthood manual. I did think the book was well worth the read, and alas criticism is easy. I enjoyed the insights and bits of trivia such as a possible temple boat and the coca cola story. DOM has a specialness about him and I feel found to the man, even though he passed away adecade before I was born.

    Another question is what influenced your decision to quote so heavily form the interview with Dunne? Was it what you saw an ability to speak of church leadership from a more removed position?

    I wonder what kind of process went into selecting parts of his life to address or issues, and perhaps a peak at topics left out, possibly for a later edition? I guess I’m interested in the process of selecting and constructing. I wonder what the author sees as his work strengths and weaknesses.

  42. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    RT: You raise valid parallels between Presidents Hinckley and McKay, but I’m not capable of climbing into their minds to answer the “why” question. (Others seem not to share my reticence.) The two men did work together for many years in the Missionary Department, before Hinckley became a General Authority, so it is likely that they shared many of the same philosophies. However, I don’t think any Church President yet was weak-willed, and while they are respectful of their predecessors, their guidance comes from other sources.

    Regarding politics, there is no question that President Hinckley is very skilled in public relations and politics, perhaps the best we have ever had.

    Finally, it’s simply too much of a stretch for me to speculate as to what McKay’s feelings would have been about things that have happened 35 years after his death. I’m content to leave those kinds of discussions to people gathered in bars, drinking caffeine-free Diet Cokes.

  43. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Davis: Living in Maryland, I’m not close enough to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to make the kind of comparison you request. The only one I know personally is Elder Holland, and that is because our roots go back to St. George. That said, I don’t think they make them better than him.

    As in my previous post, I’ll pass on trying to speculate on what David O. McKay would think of today’s Church (or, for that matter, today’s world). We are all products of our own times, and should be judged on that basis.

  44. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Travis: The basic issue with Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie is what to do when a Church leader, regardless of his intent, says or publishes something that is interpreted by some Church members as “official” or “authoritative”, yet differs in some respect from what is actually official or authoritative. In fact, this generally becomes an issue when there is NOT a hard-and-fast Church position, such as organic evolution. Once that opinion goes public, the Church President is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he publicly reins in his colleague, he minimizes that man’s ability to carry out his calling. McKay was quite open in expressing this concern, and in indicating that it was the reason why he did not make any public statements regarding McConkie’s book. Yet on the other hand, to remain silent while unofficial opinions gain quasi-official standing in the minds of many Church members is not a pleasant alternative. There was (and is) no easy solution to the dilemma.

  45. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Mike: I enjoyed your comments about McKay, particularly your thoughts on why he was so widely respected and loved. When I was interviewing one of the General Authorities, I told him that I thought a strong case could be made that David O. McKay was the most important Mormon (and not just Church President) of the 20th century. He replied that he hadn’t thought of the question previously, but when I raised it, he agreed. As the readers will note in the Epilogue, former Utah Governor Calvin Rampton voiced the same opinion.

  46. Jim F on August 17, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Greg Prince: I appreciate your refusal to try to divine the mental states of others, and I especially appreciate your reminder that we are all influenced by our historical situation, prophets included. The Lord explicitly recognizes that there is no alternative: “The commandments [. . .] were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24). But we too often forget it, thinking that, unlike the rest of us, the prophets exist or should exist on some metaphysically superior, ahistorical plane.

  47. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    ryan: Paul Dunn was an extraordinarily bright and perceptive person. It was clear to both of us, from the beginning of our first interview, that we were on the same wavelength–that is, that we saw the world and the Church through the same viewpoint. Ultimately, we recorded 60 hours of interviews, most of which dealt with the McKay years. Elder Dunn had a particularly close relationship to President McKay–almost a grandfather/grandson–that gave him marvelous insights. And, as you can see from the quotes in the book, he was always able to express himself in an interesting manner. There was much more depth in him than I had previously appreciated. Only a few weeks prior to his death, he and his wife stayed with us in Maryland for a week. While he was there, I asked him why I hadn’t seen the depth at the pulpit. His response was remarkably simple, yet profound: “I found, early in my career, that if I spoke to the children, the parents would listen; but if I spoke to the parents, nobody would listen.”

    The greatest strength of the book is the depth of information standing behind it. Clare’s contribution cannot be overstated, and without it there could not have been an adequate biography. However, we took great pains, over a period of eight years, to add to her record, particularly by conducting the interviews. The final database from which we wrote the book was 15,000 pages, of which about half came from sources other than Clare Middlemiss.

    The greatest weakness of the book, in the minds of some readers at least, is that it doesn’t give them what they want. For some, this means a chronological biography (something I find dreadfully boring, and for someone who lived as long and as fully as McKay, impossible for me to write). For others, it means a psychobiography. I am not capable of writing one. For yet others, it means a more intimate look at his personal life.

    Certainly, with the massive amount of information available to us, we could include only a fraction. Our judgement calls were made on the basis of what we felt to be most important. Others who look at the same data will doubtless question some of our decisions. Since we are making our data available to all researchers without restriction (at the Marriott Library, University of Utah), the field is wide-open for others to do a better job.

  48. A Nonny Mouse on August 17, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Hey RT: Would you mind providing a link to the podcast that you heard Brother Prince on?

  49. Travis on August 17, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    Brother Prince: I understand what you are saying about the dilemma President McKay (and current/future Presidents) face in this regard. But as I read the book (and read your response), I have wondered if the concern about undermining the ability of a General Authority to fulfill his calling is really valid or, perhaps, not quite as serious as one would initially think. It seems to me that the President of the Church could make a careful, positive, nuanced statement specifically referencing the work in question and, thereby, resolve the issue.

    For example, The Church could issue a statement something like this:

    “Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s recently published book titled ‘Mormon Doctrine’ is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as acknowledged by Elder McConkie in the Book’s preface. It was not commissioned by the Church, nor did members of the First Presidency or Quorum of Twelve Apostles review or approve the substance of the book. Elder McConkie undertook to express his opinion on many points of doctrine and questions for which the Lord has not yet revealed answers. Members of the Church and General Authorities (including members of the Quorum of the Twelve and 1st Presidency) will, no doubt, agree with Elder McConkie on some points and disagree on others. The First Presidency applauds Elder McConkie’s example of Gospel scholarship and encourages all members of the Church to study diligently the scriptures and teachings of modern prophets. Elder McConkie has demonstrated through may years of faithful Church service a keen mind and deep understanding of the scriptures. His book ‘Mormon Doctrine’ is another impressive example of his dedication to the Lord and his gifts as a teacher of the Gospel.”

    Or something like that. I think if the Church had issued a statement like that (or issued a statement like it the next time it is needed) then the reputation of the GA would remain solid, but it would be clear to members of the Church that the GA’s statements aren’t the official doctrine of the Church and that it’s okay to disagree.

    Am I missing something? It just doesn’t seem that hard to correct the problem without undermining the authority of the Apostle/Seventy/Blogger in question.

  50. Pam W. on August 17, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    I was fascinated by your David O. McKay biography. I’m not usually a big biography reader, but your book sounded so intriguing that I gave it a try and read it straight through. (I checked it out from the Salt Lake County library system, BTW.) I was astonished at the politics and posturing in the top echelons of Church leadership, but after I got used to the idea it didn’t particularly bother me. (I have to say, as a BYU grad, I had no idea Ernest L. was such a weasel.) When I mentioned this to my husband, he was already aware of the aforementioned politics, so perhaps I was just naive — or simply never thought of it before.

    Anyway, I found your book very respectful of Pres. McKay as well as enlightening. Thank you for writing it.

  51. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Travis: Hindsight is much easier. The problem is in trying to put oneself into the world of 1958. McConkie’s book catalyzed the policy of having manuscripts written by General Authorities approved by the First Presidency prior to being published. What did they have at the time to look towards as precedent? I think I understand your sentiments, but everything looks much simpler in retrospect than it was in fact.

  52. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    Pam: Thanks for the kind words. One thing that surprised me was that several of the chapters that I would have thought to be irreparably boring (when just looking at the title), such as Correlation, Ecumenism and Broadcasting, turned out to be some of the more interesting ones.

  53. Travis on August 17, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    I realize that it’s much easier to write a statement like that in hindsight, but I think it’s still a relevant issue today. I suspect a significant percentage of English-speaking members of the Church still consider Mormon Doctrine and Smith’s Man, His Origins and Destiny to be official (if only in a de facto sense) statements of Church doctrine. I think it significantly changes how we as members of the Church read books and articles/talks given by General Authorities to know that the General Authorities are not a monolithic group who agree on matters of doctrine. Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately) Church leaders haven’t been asking my opinions on how to run the Church, so I realize my wishing for clearer statements in this vein is a futile thing.

  54. Greg Prince on August 17, 2005 at 8:05 pm

    Travis: The underlying principle for McKay was that unless he felt the Lord had spoken on a matter, he would not speak. This drove his public silence on the issue of blacks and priesthood, where not even his counselors knew 1) that he considered it a policy and not a doctrine, and 2) what he meant by “policy.” The problem was that some of the men around him did not feel the same constraint.

  55. Bradley Ross on August 17, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    Travis (49) writes, in his fictional letter from the First Presidency responding to the publication of Mormon Doctrine, “It was not commissioned by the Church, nor did members of the First Presidency or Quorum of Twelve Apostles review or approve the substance of the book.” This doesn’t seem to agree, as least pertaining to the second edition, with the report given by Joseph McConkie in his biography of his father, though it sounds like a good description of the first edition (see the last QA below). An excerpt was published by Meridian Magazine. (Ellipses mine.)

    Question: Is it true that President David O. McKay banned the book?

    Response: In January 1960, President McKay asked Elder McConkie not to have the book reprinted.

    Question: How is it, then, that the book was reissued?

    Response: On July 5, 1966, President McKay invited Elder McConkie into his office and gave approval for the book to be reprinted if appropriate changes were made and approved. Elder Spencer W. Kimball was assigned to be Elder McConkie’s mentor in making those changes.

    Question: Is this generally known?

    Response: I don’t think so. I don’t know how people would be expected to know this.

    Question: Haven’t you heard people say that Bruce McConkie had the book reprinted contrary to the direction of the First Presidency?

    Response: Yes, but if they would think about it, that assertion does not make much sense. … It could also be noted that Mormon Doctrine was reissued in 1966, and its author was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1972. It takes a pretty good imagination to suppose that a man who flagrantly ignored the direction of the president of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would be called to fill a vacancy in that body.

    …Bruce McConkie would have died a thousand deaths before he would have disregarded the prophet’s counsel or that of the Quorum of the Twelve….

    Question: How do you know President McKay directed your father to reprint Mormon Doctrine?

    Response: My father told me that President McKay had so directed him. In addition to that, I am in possession of handwritten papers by my father affirming that direction.

    Question: Did the first edition of Mormon Doctrine cause embarrassment to President McKay?

    Response: Yes. The Catholic bishop in Salt Lake City, Bishop Hunt, communicated to President McKay his displeasure with the book and what it said about the Catholic church.

    Question: So, at least originally, the First Presidency had concerns about Mormon Doctrine?

    Response: Yes. One of those concerns was the title itself. There was some question about what business a Seventy had declaring the doctrine of the Church. It is interesting to note, however, that no suggestion was ever made that the title of the book be changed.

    Question: Would it be fair to say that the First Presidency gave your father a good horsewhipping for some of the things he wrote in Mormon Doctrine?

    Response: I think their concern was not as much with what he had written as that he had done it without seeking counsel and direction from those who presided over him. This was back in a day before the Brethren did much writing, and there was no established review system for what they did write. As to their giving him “a good horse whipping,” I think we can be confident that they were not shy in voicing their feelings. I have been told that when he met with the First Presidency, my father was invited to be seated but chose to remain standing. I also know that it was his practice (because he told me I was to do the same) when you are getting scolded, you offer no excuses—you just take it. After the experience President Moyle observed, “I’ve never seen a man in the Church in my experience that took our criticism—and it was more than criticism—but he took it better than anyone I ever saw. When we were through and Bruce left us, I had a great feeling of love and appreciation for a man who could take it without any alibis, without any excuses, and said he appreciated what we said to him.”

    I wonder if the DOM biography sheds any other light on this episode.

  56. Travis on August 17, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    I understand and appreciate your points on this question, Bro. Prince. I really don’t mean to criticize President McKay or Bro’s McConkie and Smith. It appears that each was acting in good faith and there didn’t seem to be a clear precedent for how to act in that situation. It’s just frustrating that their actions had the results they did. Sometimes life is just like that, I’m learning.

  57. John W. Redelfs on August 17, 2005 at 10:31 pm

    Travis suggested a statement that the Church could issue to solve the dilemma of some members taking for Church doctrine the unauthorized interpretations of General Authorities such as Elder McConkie. I think he overestimates the ability of many of the Church members to discern between such a statement and a repudiation of what is being taught, especially by those who agree with those unauthorized interpretations and feel that their agreement is inspired. I am sixty years old, and joined the Church during the administration of President McKay who was then and still remains a personal hero. But I agreed then with Elder McConkie’s and Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretations of scripture and still do. I would have lost a lot of confidence in both McConkie and Smith if such a statement had been made. I think that there would probably be many others. I agree with Brother Prince that there is a dilemma that is not easily solved. I don’t think that the statement suggested by Travis would have the desired affect.

  58. ed on August 18, 2005 at 1:38 am

    I just read Prince’s chapter on correlation, and I must say it was extremely interesting. I hadn’t realized how decentralized the church was and how much power the auxiliaries had…it’s no wonder the leadership saw a need to reign in the anarchy, and I don’t think the church would have been nearly as successful without such a movement.

    Looking back it’s striking how completely the correlation movement managed to centralize everything under the priesthood hierarchy. It seems like the process continues even today: for example, general authority talks increasingly take up the majority of space in the church magazines. New buildings at BYU now seem to be exclusively named for apostles, especially church presidents. We’re even seeing more apostle-written hymns! Nothing outside the hierarchy matters much anymore.

    It occurs to me that one effect of this process is a dramatic decrease in the influence of women in the church. Not only don’t women get to control the relief society, they don’t even have much opportunity to write for the Ensign anymore. I wonder if we’ll see the correlation pendulum swing back the other way?

  59. Jack on August 18, 2005 at 2:15 am

    John,

    I don’t think the problem with Travis’ statement has so much to do with how it might have thrown mud in the face of BRM per se, but rather, how it would have effected the general membership’s perception of ALL GA’s. It might have caused members to view general authorities more from the stand-point of suspicion rather than acceptance.

    And in light of this dilemma, it seems that correlation is (among other things) an answer to the problem of desiphering what is approved by the church and what isn’t. I find it interesting that it is after correlation has been established that we see a flood of “extra” books and materials being produced by GA’s at an unprecedented rate.

  60. John Mansfield on August 18, 2005 at 7:53 am

    The Sunday School manual mentions that “in 1908 President Joseph F. Smith called Elder McKay to serve on the Correlation Committee.” Was correlation then a different thing from now or have those matters been with us a long, long time?

  61. Travis on August 18, 2005 at 7:59 am

    Jack and John – I guess my only response to your comments on my proposed Church statement is that if such a statement were to result in diminished confidence in General Authorities, that would be completely appropriate. (I hasten to add that I really am a big fan of GA’s, I just think people need to be clear about what their proper role is in announcing the doctrine of the Church).

    John, you are welcome to agree with Brother Smith and I am completely open to the idea of your having spiritual impressions that lead you to feel strongly that he is correct. What is key, to me, is that your basis for believing that he is correct is confirmation from God–not that his writings are correct simply by virtue of being the writings of a General Authority.

    Jack, I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that a statement like the one I proposed would cause members of the Church to view the General Authorities with “suspician”. I would also disagree if you used the word “skepticism”. I think the word I would use is “caution”, and as I said above, I think this would be perfectly appropriate.

    Also re Jack’s comment above, I do see the correlation movement as a way to answer the problem of deciphering what is “approved” by the Church. But my impression is that the correlation movement has resulted in a decline in books by General Authorities that include exposition of “meaty” doctrines like those published by Smith and BRM. Every time I go into Deseret Book I see a multitude of books written by General Authorities, but from the Seventy we see mostly books about dealing with life’s problems or wayward children or increasing faith or by dealing with “light” doctrinal matters. These are important, but more doctrinally “fluffy” than the writings of Smith and BRM which undertook to interpret scripture with a tone of real authority. Seems like most books by Apostles these days are either doctrine “light” or are compilations of General Conference (or similar) addresses. I realize these are major generalizations and would appreciate with people giving examples of books they know of which prove the generalization wrong.

    Still, it seems to me that the only people trying to do what Smith and BRM did nowadays are BYU professors and the like. Where do they go for authority on how to interpret the scriptures? The “unofficial” writings of Smith, BRM, etc. This means that the correlation movement which restricts modern General Authorities from giving doctrinal opinions leaves a sort of doctrinal vacuum, which is only filled by the older pre-correlation writings.

    I am oversimplifying here and in the process, exaggerating. I know. But I think there’s some truth to this and it leaves me restless. Sorry for beating a dead horse. I do understand that this is a very difficult dilemma for Church leaders to deal with.

  62. texasviolinist on August 18, 2005 at 8:05 am

    I think that there is too much emphasis in some of these posts on the brethren being the source of meaty doctrine and not enough on our discerning meaty doctrine ourselves. I think that if there were more doctrinal books by general authorities there would be less scripture and doctrinal study in the church. It would be inhibiting to personal revelation to have the brethren pronouncing on everything. Four books of canonized scripture create plenty of room for a personal doctrine that is a guide for our stewardships.

    We need to dig into the scriptures ourselves.

  63. jpg on August 18, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Brother Prince,
    Firstly, I am reading your book at the moment and is easily the best church biography I have read. I also think it is great that you are willing to take the time to respond to these questions. My question is with regard to the Mormon Doctrine saga. Bradley Ross quotes Joseph F. McConkie who implies that DOM approved of the republishing, and the assignment of Spencer W. Kimball to oversee the corrections seems to suggest that he did. Yet in the book you suggest that BRM misinterpretated (perhaps deliberately) DOM’s wishes and that his age prevented him from putting up much resistance. Could you comment on this apparent discrepancy ? Thanks in advance.

  64. Jack on August 18, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    Travis,

    I’m thinking more along the lines of GA’s acting in their official capacities. What we don’t want is to diminish the member’s belief in the stewardship of a traveling GA who presides at a stake conference, for example. I understand that I’m comparing apples with oranges when talking about “official” capacities. But in the church, all too often, that’s what we do. In our fear we look for what’s similar between apples and oranges and irrationally presume that because, in a wholly different context, it would be inappropriate for a GA to assert himself (such as declaring official doctrine without the united voice of the presiding quorums) that the same would hold true if he were to dispense counsel on a stake level. IMO, the church cannot thrive unless its members are open to and accepting of its authorities as a baseline attitude. This isn’t to say that individual members don’t need to search things out for themselves and receive confirmation (when needed) on particular a issue. We certainly don’t want to be a bunch of over-zealous fools who rush in where (even) GA’s fear to go. There is ample room for the saints to exercise wisdom in how they apply the counsel of their leaders.

  65. Clark on August 18, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    “for example, general authority talks increasingly take up the majority of space in the church magazines.”

    I think that’s partially because the quality of articles outside of GA talks was pretty bad.

    It used to be just the Home Teaching message at the beginning. Then there were some really good articles and some so-so articles. (Late 80’s to early 90’s) Then they introduced “Speaking Today” which was some GA talks that people wouldn’t otherwise have been able to read. And there were some amazing talks there. Some of my favorites were there. But at the same time the other articles got weaker and weaker. Fewer scholarly like summaries on history or the scriptures. More bland “rah rah.” It quickly became that only the GA talks were good.

    Now, I hate to confess, with the riches of LDS.org I don’t even subscribe to the Ensign. I can read talks by the brethren to my heart’s delight. And I can go to FARMS to read a lot of stuff there.

    I wonder how much the internet and the church’s excellent web sites is making the Ensign redundant or worse? If the church drops it, it will be a sad day in a way. Someone ought write a history of the church’s publications. After all the Ensign was radically different from the Improvement Era. I have some old Improvement Eras from the David O. McKay era and they included ads, movie reviews and so forth. Very surprising.

  66. texasviolinist on August 18, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    A committed member of the church always takes the counsel of a general authority very (very very)seriously. He even listens carefully to their expositions of doctrine. But the general authorities are pretty “in-tune” with a need to stay close to official orthodoxy even when they extemporize in stake conference.
    They really avoid pandering to people who demand the “official” word on everything.

  67. Greg Prince on August 18, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    jpg: The whole story, as I have come to understand it, is contained in the biography. It is clear, from comparing the two simultaneous, first-hand accounts of McConkie’s meeting with McKay, that they portray the meeting in very different light. When McKay’s own account has him saying, “. . . should the book be republished at this time . . . it will not be a Church publication . . .” and McConkie claims McKay “indicated that the book should be republished at this time . . .”, there is a definite disconnect. You’ll have to decide McConkie’s intent. I’ve tried throughout the book to present the data points as dispassionately as possible, giving special care to controversial issues, and let the reader draw his/her own conclusion.

  68. Ross Geddes on August 19, 2005 at 5:01 pm

    Greg: I too really enjoyed your book and have appreciated your comments here. As a member living in Australia I am particularly interested in the history of the international church. In chapter 14 you cover the reversal of the policy of the gathering, which is a topic I have also looked at but without the benefit of many of your sources. You mention the redefinition of the concept of Zion. There was a very moving talk by Matthew Cowley in the April 1952 general conference where he specifically addressed members in various countries (naming them one by one) and said “You are Zion”. Did you find anything in the Middlemiss papers to indicate that this had been discussed by the First Presidency previously?

    I also found that the idea of organising stakes overseas seemed to come after the decision to build temples there, almost as an afterhought. For example, you quote David O. McKay as saying (in August 1953): “We should like our people to remain in Europe and build up strong branches, particularly now that we are taking temples to them” (p. 366). No mention of stakes. I could not find any published reference to overseas stakes prior to June 1955 (an editorial in the Australian mission magazine Austral Star), followed by another mention in the British Millennial Star two months later. Did you find anything that could pin down exactly when the First Presidency decided that stakes would be established overseas?

    Thanks again for your landmark book. It must have been a herculean task.

  69. Lisa B. on August 19, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    Ed #58 Now I’ll have to get the book just to read the chapter on correlation. This is a heavey subject for me. I also hope for the pendulum to swing back, especially now that it has been re-emphasized in the proclamation on the family that gender is eternal.

  70. Greg Prince on August 19, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    Ross: Your point about Matthew Cowley is fascinating. I saw no record of a First Presidency discussion of the topic, but Cowley’s talk occurred during the first General Conference following McKay’s announcement to the Twelve that there would be overseas temples. It’s easy to see how Cowley could connect the dots himself, but it is more likely that this issue was discussed in one of their council meetings prior to his talk. I just don’t have the documentation to tell you when. McKay’s diaries generally included only brief descriptions of council meetings (if any). The minutes of those meetings–First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Joint Council–are not open to researchers, including myself. It is likely that the answer to your question resides there.

    Stakes might not have been mentioned by name, but there is no doubt that they marked (and continue to mark) the endpoint of Church maturation in any geographical area. The earliest references to stakes, in the Joseph Smith era, place no geographical limitations, so there would not have been a need to change any policy in order to establish them internationally. The only requirement was to have sufficient numbers and maturity in those areas, and that had not been possible for over a century because of the continual drain of the policy of gathering to the United States. Once the policy was reversed, it was largely a matter of time until “natural” processes resulted in the creation of stakes. Certainly there was no rush to do so–five years elapsed between the time the first European temple was dedicated and the time of the creation of the first European stake. McKay knew the crucial point at which to intervene, and it was the temples. To borrow (with apologies) from a later movie, “If you build it, they will stay.”

  71. Wilfried on August 19, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    I just got back from my spring and summer stay in Belgium and haven’t had a chance yet to purchase and read the biography, but this is a high priority now. Even so, I would like to say this thread has been fascinating all along, with many interesting questions, and especially the very helpful and enriching answers by Greg Prince. He has been a marvelous source of extra information. Thank you, Greg! And let it continue…

  72. Ross Geddes on August 20, 2005 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for your response, Greg. What you say makes sense. The first international stake (not counting Hawaii, western Canada and the Mexican colonies) was in Auckland, New Zealand and was created only a month after the temple dedication in 1958. Perhaps the reason it was able to be created two years before the first stake in Europe was that NZ had probably not been affected as much by emigration to Utah as Europe had been, particularly among the Maori where the greatest strength of the Church in NZ was at that time (and arguably still is). Then in 1960-61 there were a spate of stakes created in England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland etc, all a natural result (as you say) of members staying in their homelands because of the closer proximity of temples.

  73. Gary on August 21, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Greg: You make at least two mistakes on page 45. First, no form of evolution accepted by science was involved in the discussions you refer to in the first paragraph under the heading “The Evolution Debate” (see ndbf.net). Second, Joseph Fielding Smith did not, as you claim, act “on his own volition to publish Man, His Origin and Destiny.” The truth is that President Smith was urged by his associates in the Quorum of the Twelve to write and publish the book (see here and here).

  74. Levi Peterson on August 22, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    I bought the book at the Salt Lake Sunstone symposium and have read it. It was a good investment–well written and very enlightening. I was interested to learn that President McKay expressly refused to allow the excommunciation of Juanita Brooks following her publication of the reinstatement of John D. Lee.

    Juanita wasn’t always in a good humor with David O. McKay. She believed that he had stonewalled her acquisition of affidavits by witnesses of the Mountain Meadows massacre while she was researching for her book on that topic.

  75. Mark B. on August 22, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    A few points regarding international stakes–

    It seems that some of the brethren (esp. Joseph Fielding Smith) felt strongly that Zion was to be in the Americas, and resisted the idea that stakes should be created overseas. That feeling may have been a “brake” on the creation of stakes in Europe, Africa (South Africa in those days) and Asia.

    Second, the other matter related to the supervision of stakes, especially attendance by general authorities at quarterly stake conferences. As stakes were created farther and farther from Salt Lake City, the challenge of sending brethren to those conferences increased. It’s interesting that this difficulty has been addressed in a different way: reduce the number of conferences to two per year, reduce the number where there’s a general authority “visitor” to once every two years, and make that “visit” electronic in most cases, call additional general authorities (the organization of the Seventies quorums in 1976) calling area authority seventies, etc.

  76. manaen on August 22, 2005 at 7:04 pm

    75, #2
    I remember when GA visits to stake conference were reduced from every conference to every other conference. An apostle visiting our conference — and I surely wish I could remember who he was — used a phrase to describe it that I still remember with a chuckle. He said that if one GA came, it was a regular conference; if two GAs came, something was afoot; if three or more came, you knew that “all hell’s a poppin’!”

  77. Chris Grant on September 21, 2005 at 6:42 pm

    Perhaps Greg has left the building by now, but if not it would be interesting if he’d elaborate on his assertion, with regard to Fawn Brodie, that: “There is no evidence McKay had any role in his niece’s excommunication”. This is in striking contrast to Newell Bringhust’s assertion that: “It appears that David O. McKay played a prominent role in the excommunication of his niece.” Bringhurst footnotes his claim with references to oral histories of Thomas B. McKay and Flora McKay Crawford that he recorded in the 1980s. Has Greg examined these histories and found them to be without substance?

  78. arthur r on February 6, 2006 at 1:02 am

    I don’t get any of this…should I even read Mormon Doctrine? Did Bruce R. McConkie ignore the First Presidency in publishing the second edition of Mormon doctrine or did he have permission to do so? If he flagrantly ignored the First Presidency and published the second edition anyway this would create a serious problem for me.