Journal text selected by Dennis B. Horne.
Much of Spencer W. Kimball’s Apostolic ministry was devoted to working with and counseling members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that had committed “moral” sins.
This is part of a longer series of Excerpts from The Journal of President Spencer W. Kimball.
Not many years after his entry into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President David O. McKay assigned both Elder Kimball and Elder Mark E. Petersen to act as a two-man committee to work with homosexuals in the Church (which they largely did independently of each other). The below accounts, taken straight from the journals, convey Elder Kimball’s massive prolonged efforts to fulfill that assignment.
The below items are by no means all that there are recorded in the journals, for such a collection of portions of entries would run much longer than this one, but they are among the most informative. I have included a sampling of non-“morals”-type problems to give a wider flavor for what Elder Kimball dealt with (such as mental illness)—but the items below do provide a strong overview of his labors in this field.
It almost feels like driving down the freeway and seeing an accident on the side of the road and slowing down to take a closer look—these are real people with real moral and marriage problems that Elder Kimball was trying to help them resolve. While Elder Kimball was occasionally optimistic his efforts would pay off, much of the time he (and we) never got to know the end of the story—whether people had truly repented or not (what he often called “making adjustments”). How he rejoiced when the people he worked with sincerely repented!
Some readers might figuratively see themselves or someone they know in the circumstances of one of these past recounted episodes. Perhaps someone in a similar position will find their own way to repentance and salvation. Perhaps some bishops and stake presidents will find some wisdom or inspiration in these difficult experiences that can be of help to them.
Some liberal dissidents of that day and this take issue with Elder Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness, thinking Elder Kimball to have been too hard and harsh on those who indulge in sin and won’t repent. For this reason I have included many diary entries documenting his writing the book and the highly influential results of its publication—including what certain of his Apostolic associates thought of it. Also what President Dallin H. Oaks thought of it.
In this set of five posts are found thirty-five pages of extended narration or summary or quick note of Elder Kimball’s experiences striving with near-damned or dirty or troubled souls, trying with all his might to lift and help save them. Much of it is not easy reading (especially the most heinous sins), but some is redemptive. I have included some mentions of those who lost their church membership, but after sincerely repenting, gained back their full blessings (priesthood and/or temple) and rejoiced, the burden lifted, the joy and happiness restored. This is how the atonement of Jesus Christ can take a repentant person from potential Telestial damnation to exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God.
For those wishing to delve deeper and read the actual diary entries, I have included the date of the journal entry. President Kimball’s journal is simply not polished writing but is excellent as both a first and final draft. Please forgive any typos. A church email account is needed to access the material on the Church Archives website (the call number is MS 21541):
November 12, 1943: It was a terrible experience that came to me today. I think I can never forget the scene. We were called to a special meeting of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. Earlier in the day when I asked Bro. Lee if it was a report meeting he solemnly told me that it was not and that I should get my feet firmly on the ground anticipating it. The next two hours were filled with wonder and fear. Conferences had been adjusted and special appointments of the brethren cancelled that they might all be present. Some of them were not in the city. . . . The slow deliberate and saddened approach of some of the brethren as they came to the Temple presaged something ominous was ahead of us.
As soon as we were all seated the meeting was called to order and announcement was made by Pres. George Albert Smith who was almost overcome, that there was a very serious charge against one of our brethren. He then directed that the charge be read. Our hearts stood still as we heard that Richard R. Lyman, for 26 years a member of the Council of the Twelve, was accused of immorality. His written confession was read and he being present did not deny the accusation nor the confession. He told also of the situations. He had little to say. He was as pale as could be. He minimized his act and seemed to feel that it should be overlooked but showed no repentance and no expressed sorrow for his sin. He tried to link his sin with polygamy but the evidence gave no corroboration to the story. It was a terrible ordeal. To see great strong men such as the members of this quorum all in tears, some sobbing, all shocked, stunned by the impact was an unforgettable sight. No tears from him but plenty from the rest of us and what a heart-rending experience. After considerable discussion a motion was made, seconded and we voted unanimously to excommunicate him from the Church. When he retired he said goodbye and shook hands with each of us and left the Temple, his Quorum, his Church. Still stunned almost beyond recovery, the members seemed to be yet unable to believe the terrible truth.
November 18, 1943: Today was our regular weekly meeting and since no meeting was held the previous Thursday there was much to do. I enjoyed the meetings very much though there was still much sadness over the action of last week excommunicating Richard R. Lyman.
18th supplemental. It was still a sad day for the Authorities of the Church, as this was the first regular weekly meetings with the Richard R. Lyman seat empty. Considerable was said regarding the unfortunate situation, during the various meetings.
October 27, 1943: My first visitor was Elder [name removed]. . . . Among other things he told me of spiritual manifestations of one of the members out there and asked me about them. I assured him that the story sounded like evil ministrations.
January 27, 1948: I had an interview with Sister Hodgson concerning the work with delinquent girls, this being a new assignment of Elder Peterson and myself.
January 30, 1948: I had a special appointment with President McKay at 8:00 o’clock concerning our new work with delinquent girls coming into the city.
February 2, 1948: There were many appointments through the day. It was a difficult day, with some deep sorrows and heavenly moments. Immediately after noon I went to the Veterans’ Hospital to see the young man, whom I had visited twice before. I was shocked when I came to his cell. All the furniture was removed from his room and he lay on a mattress, smoking, cursing and raving. He did not look anything like himself. His feet appeared to be cut but the attendant said he had been burning his feet with his cigarette. He talked incessantly without reason, more like an intoxicated person than like one insane. I was told by the attendant he had been given medication and that he would probably be adjudged insane today and taken to a Colorado institution. He was disheveled, his eyes were bleary. I was so shocked that I could not get him out of my mind for hours. Upon the other visits he had been so handsome and clean and docile—it hardly appeared that there was anything wrong with him and for this abrupt change—only three days, it was almost unbelievable.
February 17, 1948: Sister Hodgson came in early to discuss the Delinquent Girls’ Program.
March 12, 1948: About 4:00 o’clock my cousin, Heber “Chase” Kimball came in, bringing a Mrs. Eva Wininger. He has, long ago, been excommunicated for so-called plural marriage relationships and teachings. We visited pleasantly for a while and then he attacked me for having republished the Life of Heber C. Kimball without having eliminated the footnote, which said “That the official cane of Heber C. Kimball was in the hands of Lon Kimball at Kanosh” and he rather demanded that we change this. I explained this to him that inasmuch as two cousins are claiming to have the cane, we had no evidence as to which was right; that I had published this part of the book as the original author had left it and without any change. He was very insistent and rather ugly about the matter, but I told him positively that we were not interested in making any changes or adjustments. His only evidence was memories of other people and his own deductions and so-called inspirations. Mrs. Wininger told me at great length her experiences as she was committed to the mental hospital at Provo, Utah long years ago. They both scoffed at the idea that there ever had been justification for her incarceration, but I spent three long hours with them and came to the conclusion that no error had been made and from their actions and their statements I felt sure that they were both ‘off-balance.’ He finally brought up the plural marriage angle again, as he has so many times in the past, and I bore my testimony to him with a great deal of power and warned him that even if he were sincere he was misled and deceived and he was getting along in years and he should come to his senses and endeavor to straighten himself out in his thinking; that I knew the program was correct and that the Authorities were the “Anointed of the Lord” and that there was no question in the matter. He stood in rage but made no reply. When they finally left I offered my hand and told him I still loved him as a cousin, but he refused to shake hands with me; though his companion insisted he still went out without shaking hands.
March 15, 1948: It was a very busy day with several very distressing problems. A woman is being abandoned by her husband; apparently he is in sin; they were separated a year ago and I was able to hold them together, hoping for a permanent reconciliation, but it looks hopeless now. A young man had married a year ago, under my hands [officiating], and had now admitted that he had been immoral years before going into the Temple. Another broken home, it seemed, but after a long visit with both parties, it looks like a permanent and total reconciliation has been effected. It was a day of problems….
January 9, 1953: Spent the day at the office as usual with many problems and interviews. Another man who was befuddled, frustrated. Home life not too good, afraid of life, unhappy in his work, unsuccessful in it, depressed. I tried to help him and I believe he went out in better spirits. Another young man came in jittery, frightened, frustrated, appearing to be almost unbalanced. Wild eyed he finally told me his story. He had returned from his successful mission; had become careless and partly inactive; had taken up smoking (he had smoked in earlier youth); had begun to run around with girls not up to his supposed standard; had finally committed fornication with a young girl, the mother of three little babies, the first and third being the children of a legal husband now gone and the second from another young man without marriage; they had both found themselves with Gonorrhea and had nearly lost their minds when the Doctor told them it was not curable; they had pooled their little resources and began to live together as husband and wife and so let it be known. Then conscience had asserted itself. He had run away trying to escape from his sin, his problems, and himself; had offered himself, he said, to the mental asylum. He was about ready for one. I calmed him down and gained his confidence and finally he opened his heart and confessed the rest, that they were not married (his first statement was that she was his wife). I assured him that he could be eventually forgiven and go forward with a constructive life if there were total repentance. He left with a light in his eye and a smile and with hope beaming in his countenance. I had urged that he bring in the woman and I would get a Bishop to marry them at once. He called back a little later to say that marriage was impossible since she was not divorced from her husband. They came in later in the day and seemed so grateful and ready to do whatever I suggested. He had sold his clothes for food on one of his gypsy wanderings and looked like a tramp but this morning a woman came up to him at a bus stop and gave him a good suit of clothes which fit him perfectly—it was the property of her son recently dead, she said. I gave him $10 to tide him over a day or two while he got a job. This made three young men within a week who were ready to commit suicide. What are we coming to! [This some story is repeated in even greater detail in the diary some 2 weeks later.]
January 26, 1953: Perhaps someday my grandchildren and descendants may be interested to know something of my work. Today was an interesting and full day, perhaps typical. After spending about 3 hours at my Dictaphone and the desk at my home I took my Dictaphone recordings and went to the office where I closed the door and knelt down for a short prayer asking the Lord to make me equal to whatever problems should come in the day. (We had already had our usual family prayer at home.) I began to open my mail when the phone began to ring and the people began to come even though I had only one formally appointed interview. First there came a returned missionary sent by the [stake] Presidency for an interview for a Temple Recommend. His problem was masturbation. In all other respects he was clean but this habit had fastened itself upon him like an octopus. He earnestly desired to do right. I talked to him long and earnestly and believe I built up his determination and strength and gave him a blessing and sent him away happy. He will keep in touch with me until he has gained total mastery. [At this point, Elder Kimball retells the story, in greater detail, of the January 9, 1953 above individual; names redacted.]
September 21, 1953: This was a hectic day with several serious problems of family difficulties. One young man had been awakened by his 4 little children climbing over him and asking: “Where is mommy?” His wife had left him during the night. Another man was almost completely overcome when his wife told him, in my room [office], that she definitely was going to get a divorce. He nearly worshipped her. Another sister told me that her husband, to whom she had been sealed in the Temple, was spending his vacation alone in a distant city where a girl lived to whom he had been writing. And so the day was a miserable, hectic one.
September 14, 1954: I had an interview with an anonymous person with whom I had visited hours on Monday. He was a handsome, tall fine looking boy, 24 years of age, and stated he was Catholic and was interested in a Latter-day Saint girl who had been married in the temple and divorced but not unsealed. I hope I made an impression upon him and bore my testimony to him. He was very respectful and listened intently for the hours.
September 19, 1954: At my desk at the office I had a long interview with [redacted], a returned missionary of some years who is attending [college] and whose faith seemingly has been shattered and who is much disturbed over the Negro question, over revelation and over all the other matters which affect those who begin in their apostasy. I talked to him earnestly and did my utmost to help him to get back to correct thinking. He worships the scientists and would accept nothing he could not prove. I felt depressed all day, feeling that I had done him little good and disturbed greatly for his future.
February 5, 1957: I reconvened the meeting, excused the sisters and talked to the men about the things they needed to hear. Many of the young men have been indiscreet in times past in their early lives. Some of them failed to clean up their [sin] messes before coming, hence carry a guilt complex, disturbing and limiting their missions. They were greatly interested and in the interviews which followed, many expressed gratitude for having cleared in their minds the seriousness of certain practices and the way to clear them getting forgiveness and release and peace. I am sure it did much good for them.
April 27, 1957: Today I had three long and difficult cases come to the home. A girl, a young man, and a married man, all with serious sex cases.
May 2, 1957: There were only 5 of the Twelve at the 9 am meeting. . . . A restoration case [was] brought up—one that only I knew about. It looked like the repentant young man was going to lose this opportunity to have his blessings restored. His case was not such an ugly case as we have had. I tried to defend him and the case and supply information in his favor which the brethren did not know. I struggled and could not speak [because of recent throat surgery]. I whispered a few short items to Brother Lee who sat by me and he kindly relayed them. Finally the matter was approved and this young man who has suffered long and repented much, will now be restored to his blessings or rather have them restored to him.
June 8, 1957: About noon I had a call from Mrs. Ethel Thurmon in southern California asking if I could help her husband William Eugene who was at the Milner hotel. Camilla called him for me and made an appointment at my office at 2:30. I waited at the office downtown for near an hour and he did not come so I went to the hotel to find him. He came to the door to admit me to his room, bleary eyed, naked except for a half buttoned shirt, his hair ruffled, his face red and unsteady on his feet. He was overwhelmed to see me and much abashed. He embraced me and wept and pointed to the dresser covered with empty and partly filled bottles of 7up. And a half empty bottle of liquor. He was ashamed. He babbled on as a drunk would: how glad he was to see me, how he appreciated my coming, that I was the first one who showed that much interest in him; that I was saving his soul and on and on.
He recalled (I was astounded) numerous details of my life, especially in the mission field in St. Louis where I met him as a little boy. He had read biographical sketches of me for he knew my life and works almost better than I did. He wept over the death, some months ago, of his sister Marie (Mrs. Marvin Moody) who was a sweet, faithful woman and who had proved faithful through long years of rearing her twelve or more children and recently died of multiple sclerosis. He was drunk, and had been off and on for some time, he told me. I filled the bath tub full of cold water and induced him to take a cold bath. I got him some tomato juice to sober him and he recovered somewhat and babbled on and on.
He received a telegraphed money order so I walked with him down to Western Union to get his money $20 which his wife had borrowed on her car. He had called her once and attempted 2 or 3 times to tell her that I was with him and helping him. I dissuaded him twice since money was an item with them. He wabbled down the street. I am sure many people who knew me were surprised at my company. The W.U. girls were asked by him if they were Mormons and he told them proudly who I was in loud drunken terms and language. The girls were as embarrassed as I.
We staggered back up the street with his arm over my shoulder part of the time and him babbling loudly most of the way. We went to . . . the Alcohol Anonymous group and I made arrangements for him to stay there and receive their help. While I did this he was telling the men in the room that I was his friend and I was an Apostle of the Mormon Church etc. We staggered back to the hotel on West Temple and I packed his suit cases and took them to the door, then went down to the desk to check out for him.. As I went back up the steps and secured his bags, he came down and disappeared. How he could stagger out of the world so quickly, I shall never know. I looked high and low for him, up all the alleys, in the corner and was unable to find him. He had been so cooperative up to the last minute that I could hardly believe he would run away. (I learned later that he had just ‘gone crazy,’ I guess, for a drink, and couldn’t help it).
I drove over to A.A. . . . and left his suit cases there and parked and began an exhaustive search for him. My sciatica rheumatism was nearly killing me and every step was torture. I felt I must find him and get him located. Time was precious as I had to leave on the 7:50 train for Los Angeles. I went along 2nd South and stepped in every pool hall, café, and tavern down the line and couldn’t find him. Went back to the hotel and they said he had not returned. I went down the alleys again then through two picture shows and could find no trace of him. It was near train time and I was exhausted and in pain and defeated temporarily. I rushed home and got my things and joined Bro. Stapley in his car and went to the train. I was so very miserable I limped to my roomette, locked myself in and went to bed early.
June 12, 1957: I had Barbara and Judy come down and took them to lunch at the Lion House then took them to the office and talked long and earnestly to them trying to alert and fortify them against evil and weakness and Gentile [non-member] courtships and out-of-church marriage. They were serious and listened intently.
January 14, 1958: Down at the office—a hectic day with severe marital and morals cases.
- A traveling salesman who had stepped out on his wife and they had been separated but now were back together and he was active in the Church but they are still having trouble. Both have been untrue to each other in the past but seem to feel there is no connection to their present unhappiness and lack of faith in each other.
- She is 38 and is 5 ½ months pregnant and has charged a man in the same stake with the sin. He has a family and denies it vigorously and there is no proof—his word against hers that he is the man. Some evidence that she may be in trouble from some other source and trying to pin it on to this brother whom she loves, admittedly. The Stake Presidency hardly know how to handle it.
- She is in her thirties. Came in my office with a fever suffering from peritonitis and lost knowing not what to do. She has suffered a double abortion losing twins the last two or three days and is still hemorrhaging and afraid to call a Doctor. She is afraid that revealing her condition will keep her 19 year old daughter from filling her stake mission and lose her 1 year old child to her and bring sorrow to the man and his family. She wept all the long time of the interview. She had been a faithful member along the years till she fell at this temptation. He is an insurance manager with a respectable family and well to do, she says. He gave her money for the little one-year-old who is his son, she says. His 19 year old son contemplates a mission. He and his wife are reasonably active in the church. He is a fine looking man and was most attractive to this woman, his secretary who was working these several years to escape from the deep sorrow of the loss of a child many years ago, also to provide for her family since her husband, now divorced, was extravagant and profligate. She loves the libertine greatly, she says, and would not reveal his name nor her own until she saw there was no other way. She has lost her reputation in her ward and neighborhood and family having lied to them when they accused her, having seen on numerous occasions, night and day, the car of the libertine parked at her home. They had checked the license. They knew who he was. She denied everything but now with pregnancy, abortion, double, and blood poisoning the result of his manipulations in the abortion, is panicky. I sent her down to the woman’s room to lie down a few minutes then we walked over to his office and found it locked. I called many times in the next hours but could not locate him. I took her to the Doctor who was very kind to her and found her in bad condition. He could not get a hospital bed. Finally I reached him about 9 pm and he and his wife came to my home. She did most of the talking and admitted she had talked to the sick girl this morning who reputedly said all was o.k. with her, admitted that her husband had taken her home sometimes but suggested a trap was being sprung for her husband. He sat mute saying almost nothing. He never denied it. After a half hour they went home. He called me at 4 am and said they had been awake all night and his wife decided, he said he also was saying that he was not responsible. I told him we would have to leave it till I returned two weeks later since I was then dressing to catch the train for Texas. That was a terrible day—a hectic one. Why oh why?
May 1, 1958: This was a hectic day. From [after] the temple meeting at 2 pm till 9:30 I was engaged in disturbing and sickening [interview] experiences. A young woman disturbed mentally and needing much help; then a husband and wife with a long talk of 9 years of sin and drinking and immorality, and financial troubles and now finally a break. Some repentance and I have hopes for them now but it is a most distressing situation. I hardly knew that such things as this existed except in the underworld. I was so worn down I could not work at my desk but tried to get my mind out of the filthy world they had described by looking at TV.
May 8, 1959: Today I had a very difficult case. Quite a young woman (38) came in to clear her conscience. Her bishop was with her. She had been the mother of a child that she had given away, and the father was a married man who had been in high places and was still a High Councilor in one of the stakes. It was a shattering thing.
May 9, 1959: The married man referred to in yesterday’s journal asked for an appointment and came to see about his transgression. He has been very faithful all these years and felt that he might have been forgiven. I called his Stake President to my home and we three discussed the matter at some length. The conclusion was that he should be released from his High Council position immediately and that we would await developments before making further determinations.
May 10, 1959: After the afternoon meeting there were a number of interviews, and there the Seminary instructor revealed to me a rather shocking situation in the morals of our youth there.
May 21, 1959: Today I had a surprise visit from a man whom I had been working with for a year and a half trying to get him to repent from his adultery and abortion attempt and he had ignored Brother Petersen and myself, sent in his resignation to the Church, sent us a letter from his attorneys indicating we would have to deal with them and not him, and many other things which had indicated a very bad attitude. We had been very kind and had waited and waited, and now that a year and a half had passed we felt that we must move forward so we had called the matter to the attention of the stake presidency, who had sent to him a summons, to answer the charges. He now came in and we spent a very long afternoon. His head was finally bowed and his knees bended and he revealed to me a story of transgression which I was already aware of, but had received the information from other sources. There were many tears and pleadings and I shall continue to work with him to see if total adjustments can finally be made.
May 22, 1959: In returning to the office, about 3:00, I found another confession awaiting me. A doctor with long years of adulterous practices, he had been a bishop [yet was] still not very repentant, but wishing to adjust, if possible. He was willing to confess his sins but it was more of an admission because his wife had revealed the transgressions to the bishop and stake president and they were about to bring [disciplinary] action against both of the transgressing parties.
May 27, 1959: Eugene Thurman came in in destitute circumstances. I found him a job at the University of Utah, which I learned later he did not accept, and disappeared.
May 29, 1959: I had a very difficult case involving a Provo man and a Chicago woman was before me. I worked very hard on it with the man and hope I made some progress. It was a very heavy busy day.
June 5, 1959: Met there President John K. Edmunds of the Stake, with one of his lady members who was guilty of adultery, and with whom we spent the time until my plane left. . . .
June 13, 1959: And for the Second Counselor [in the new stake presidency] chose Lue Smith. We discussed very frankly with Brother Smith the fact that in his several large grocery stores he was selling beer and wine, and keeping the stores open on the Sabbath, as did all other stores in the area. He voluntarily proffered to discontinue sale of the beer and wine, etc. This will, undoubtedly, be a great financial sacrifice on his part. We did not require him to do it, but we did make it clear that we would not wish to use him in the high place if he were engaged in this traffic.
June 20, 1959: We returned at 8:30 and the distressed man of the morning returned, and his wife also, and spent the evening until 1:30 in the morning. I was trying to help him to find his way to repentance so that eventually he might possibly receive his family back.
July 3, 1959: A brother came in to see me in the morning and spent about two hours with me. His wife had filed for divorce because of continued conflict arising out of his immorality. . . .
July 7, 1959: I went to the office early with some very difficult moral cases.
July 30, 1959: I worked at the typewriter for many hours. . . . More hours at the typewriter—I am preparing an extensive treatise on Repentance.
August 3, 1959: After our morning oblations, our breakfast and some study and writing (I am writing a study of Peter) (and a treatise on Repentance). . . .
August 9, 1959: Had an early morning meeting with one of our most difficult marital and morals cases. There was a good deal of weeping and some hysteria, and it was a very difficult situation, lasting for two or three hours, and we were unable to resolve it up to now.
Undated story: We were in the temple. I had just concluded the temple marriage ceremony for her handsome nephew and his sweet bride. She followed me out of the room, grasped my hand with both of hers and asked: “Elder Kimball, do you remember me?” Her eyes were searching and her ears were reaching to see if I could remember her.
I was abashed. For the life of me, I could not make the connection. I was much embarrassed as I have been numerous times in such situations. Truthfully, I admitted, “I’m sorry, I do not remember.”
Instead of disappointment, I saw relief in her face. “Oh, I am so grateful that you do not remember me nor that night in our home when you called me to repentance, when you labored with me, pleaded with me, warned me, begged me to repent of my adultery. I’m glad you do not remember that prayer when my husband and I knelt with you at 3:00 a.m. in the morning after an all-night battle. I’m glad you do not remember my transgressions because now after nineteen years of sincere repentance that since you do not remember me nor my sins perhaps my Lord will remember my sins no more.” I saw her troubled face become calm and tranquil as she pressed my hand again and said, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
September 16, 1959: We had a long session with Sister [redacted] and her bishop and she exhibited more of a rebellious nature than ever during the long months we have been working on the case. In the afternoon we had another session with [redacted] and his wife and their bishop and their stake president, and we tentatively closed the case, and inactivated Brother [redacted] and told him, in the presence of his bishop and stake president he was to have no activity in the Church for the time being and until we released him. He seemed very grateful that there was no excommunication proceedings. He asked for a prayer and we let him offer a prayer and we all knelt. After they had gone they returned and Sr. [redacted] asked for a blessing at my hands.
October 8, 1959: Had an interview with Harold Bowman at 7:30, with Chief of Police [Cleon] Skousen relative to a special assignment with transgressors as given to us by the President [McKay].