Faithful Mormons often cite Bruce R. McConkies Mormon Doctrine as an authoritative volume on official LDS doctrine.
However, its initial publication in 1959 was not only unauthorized, but met by President David O. McKay and other General Authorities with both surprise and objection.
In the wake of its appearance, McKay directed that a review be made of the books contents and a report submitted to him, along with recommendations on how to deal with it problematic publication.
An analysis of the book was subsequently conducted by Apostles Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Petersen, wherein they noted the books numerous doctrinal errors, objectionable language, discourteous tone and questionable claims.
Recommendation was made that McConkies Mormon Doctrine not be republished, that it be repudiated, and that in the future no book be published by any of the Brethren without first obtaining First Presidency approval.
McKay agreed with the suggestion that Mormon Doctrine not be republished and directed that restrictions be placed on future book publishing by General Authorities.
The First Presidency also issued a private, face-to-face reprimand to McConkie, whereupon McConkie promised to behave.
Below are documents which include McKays officially-directed report on the books contents (authored by Apostle Romney), as well as excerpts from McKays contemporary office journal on the controversy surrounding the book and the resolution of the problems its publication had created.
(These documents were originally copied with permission of the LDS Church Archivist. Reproductions of those copies are in my possession. The original Romney letter and its attached copy of the Mormon Doctrine manuscript are in the First Presidencys Office).
Also noted below are letters authorized by McKay which were sent out to inquiring Church members after publication of McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine," declaring that it and other books published by individual General Authorities did not represent the official position of the LDS Church.
(Copies of these letters are also in my possession).
REPORT FROM MARION G. ROMNEY TO DAVID O. McKAY
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Council of the Twelve
47 E. South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah
January 28, 1959
President David O. McKay
Dear President McKay:
This is my report on MORMON DOCTRINE, by Bruce R. McConkie, which on January 5, you asked me to read.
The book is a 776 page work which, in the words of the author, purports to be, the first major attempt to digest, explain, and analyze all of the important doctrines of the kingdom . . . . . the first extensive compendium of the whole gospelthe first attempt to publish an encyclopedic commentary covering the whole field of revealed religion.
For the work itself, the author assumes the sole and full responsibility. (Exhibit I) (The exhibits cited in this report consist of printed pages from the book. The statements in point are underscored in red.)
Preparation of the volume has entailed much study and research. Its favorable reception evidences a felt need for such a treatise.
The author is an able and thorough student of the gospel. In many respects he has produced a remarkable book. Properly used, it quickly introduces the student to the authorities on most any gospel subject.
As to the book itself, notwithstanding its many commendable and valuable features and the authors assumption of sole and full responsibility for it, its nature and scope and the authoritative tone of the style in which it is written pose the question as to the propriety of the authors attempting such a project without assignment and supervision from him whose right and responsibility it is to speak for the Church on Mormon Doctrine. Had the work been authoritatively supervised, some of the following matters might have been omitted and the treatment of others modified.
A. Reference to churches and other groups who do not accept Mormon Doctrine.
1. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who sometimes refer to themselves as Josephites. (Exhibit II-1, pages 50, 141, 362)
2. Christian Churches generally. (Exhibit II-2, pages 139, 455)
3. Catholic Church. (Exhibit II-3, pages 13, 66, 69, 129, 130, 216, 241, 314-15, 342, 346, 350, 422, 499, 511, 697)
4. Communists and Catholics. (Exhibit II-4, pages 26-7, 131)
5. Evolution and Evolutionists. (Exhibit II-5, pages 37, 77, 136, 180, 228, 238, 659)
B. Declaration as to Mormon Doctrine on controversial issues.
1. Pre-Adamites. (Exhibit III-1, pages 17, 262)
2. Status of Animals and Plants in the Garden of Eden. (Exhibit III-2, pages 36, 234-35)
3. Meaning of the various accounts of Creation. (exhibit III_3, pages 157-8, 167-8)
4. Dispensation of Abraham. (Exhibit III-4, page 203)
5. Moses a translated being. (Exhibit III_5, pages 206, 445, 466, 727-8)
6. Origin of Individuality. (Exhibit III-6, page 404)
7. Defiling the priesthood. (Exhibit III-7, page 437)
8. Manner in which Jesus was Begotten. (Exhibit III-8, page 494)
9. Written sermons. (Exhibit III-9, pages 634-5, 716)
10. Resurrection of stillborn children. (Exhibit III-10, page 694)
C. Miscellaneous Interpretations (Exhibit IV)
Frequency of Administrations, page 22
Baptism in the molten sea, page 98
II Peter 1:19, page 102
Paul married, page 112
Status of those with Christ in His Resurrection', page 128
Consecration of oil, page 147
Councils and schools among the Gods, page 151
Limitations on Deity, page 154
Sunday not a proper day for family reunions, page 254
Geological changes at time of the deluge, page 268
The Holy Ghost a spirit man, page 329
Facing east in temples when giving the Hosanna Shout, page 337
Details on family prayer and asking the blessing on food, page 526
Women to be gods, page 551
Interpretations of the Doctrine and Covenants 93:1, page 581
Interpretation of Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning, page 606
Status of little children in the celestial kingdom, page 607
Resumption of schools of the prophets, page 613
Time of beginning of seasons, page 616
Interpretation of III Nephi 12:20, page 618
D. Repeated use of the word apostate and related terms in a way which to many seems discourteous and to others gives offense. (Exhibit V, pages 123, 125, 160, 169, 212, 223, 383, 538, 546, 548, 596)
Faithfully and Respectfully submitted,
Marion G. Romney
As per my letter to you of January 9, I have promised to contact Marvin Wallin, manager of Bookcraft Company, by the 9th of February about the 4,000 volume edition of MORMON DOCTRINE which he is holding.
I shall therefore seek to contact you about the matter near the end of next week.
M. G. R.
OFFICE JOURNAL OF PRESIDENT DAVID O. McKAY
THURSDAY, January 7, 1960
10:15 to 12:45 p.m. Re: The bookMormon Doctrine
The First Presidency met with Elders Mark E. Petersen and Marion G. Romney. They submitted their report upon their examination of the book Mormon Doctrine by Elder Bruce McConkie.
These brethren reported that the manuscript of the book Mormon Doctrine has not been read by the reading committee; that President Joseph Fielding Smith did not know anything about it until it was published. Elder Petersen stated that the extent of the corrections which he had marked in his copy of the book (1067) affected most of the 776 pages of the book. He also said that he thought the brethren should be under the rule that no book should be published without a specific approval of the First Presidency.
I stated that the decision of the First Presidency and the Committee should be announced to the Twelve.
It was agreed that the necessary corrections are so numerous that to republish a corrected edition of the book would be such an extensive repudiation of the original as to destroy the credit of the author; that the republication of the book should be forbidden and that the book should be repudiated in such a way as to save the career of the author as one of the General Authorities of the Church. It was also agreed that this decision should be announced to the Council of the Twelve before I talk to the author.
Elder Petersen will prepare an editorial for publication in the Improvement Era, stating the principle of approval of books on Church doctrine.
FRIDAY, January 8, 1960
11:55 to 12:15 p.m.
The First Presidency held a meeting. We decided that Bruce R. McConkies book, Mormon Doctrine recently published by Bookcraft Company, must not be re-published, as it is full of errors and misstatements, and it is most unfortunate that it has receive such wide circulation. It is reported to us that Brother McConkie has made corrections to his book, and is now preparing another edition. We decided this morning that we do not want him to publish another edition.
We decided, also, to have no more books published by General Authorities without their first having the consent of the First Presidency. (see January 7, 1960)
WEDNESDAY, January 27, 1960
3:00 P. M. Conference with Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith re: Bruce R. McConkies book, Mormon Doctrine
At the request of the First Presidency, I called President Joseph Fielding Smith and told him that we are a unit in disapproving of Brother Bruce R. McConkies book, Mormon Doctrine, as an authoritative exposition of the principles of the gospel.
I then said: Now, Brother Smith, he is a General Authority, and we do not want to give him a public rebuke that would be embarrassing to him and lessen his influence with the members of the Church, so we shall speak to the Twelve at our meeting in the Temple tomorrow, and tell them that Brother McConkies book is not approved as an authoritative book and that it should not be republished, even if the errors (some 1,067) are corrected.
Brother Smith agreed with this suggestion to report to the Twelve, and said, That is the best thing to do.
I then said that Brother McConkie is advocating by letter some of the [one line of words partially cut off on bottom of the photocopied page of journal] . . . to letters he receives. Brother Smith said, I will speak to him about that. I then mentioned that he is also speaking on these subjects, and Brother Smith said, I will speak to him about that also.
I also said that the First Presidency had decided that General Authorities of the Church should not publish books without submitting them to some member of the General Authorities, and President Smith agreed to this as being wise.
THURSDAY, January 28, 1960
8:30 to 9 a.m. Bruce R. McConkies Book
Was engaged in the meeting of the First Presidency. I reported to my counselors that I had talked with President Joseph Fielding Smith about the decision that the book Mormon Doctrine should not be republished and about handling the matter to avoid undermining Brother McConkies influence. President Smith agreed that the book should not be republished, and said he would talk with Brother McConkie. It was decided that the First Presidency should inform Brother McConkie before he learns of our decision from some other source, so Brother McConkie was asked to come into our meeting this morning.
When he arrived I informed him of the desire of the First Presidency with reference to h is book not being republished, to which he agreed. The recommendation was also made that he answer inquiries on the subject with care. Brother McConkie said, I am amenable to whatever you Brethren want. I will do exactly what you want. I will be as discreet and as wise as I can. In answering letters he said that he would express no views contrary to views which the First Presidency has expressed. He said that he would conform in every respect. . . .
10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Was engaged in the meeting of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple.
At Council meeting I reported to the Brethren our decision regarding Elder Bruce R. McConkies book Mormon Doctrine, stating that it had caused considerable comment throughout the Church, and that it has been a source of concern to the Brethren ever since it was published. I said that this book had not been presented to anyone for consideration or approval until after its publication. I further said that the First Presidency have [sic] give it very careful consideration, as undoubtedly have some of the Brethren of the Twelve also, and that the First Presidency now recommend that the book be not republished; that it be not republished even in a corrected form, even though Brother McConkie mentions in the book that he takes all responsibility for it; and that it not be recognized as an authoritative book.
I said further that the question has arisen as to whether a public correction should be made and a addendum given emphasizing the [bottom line of photocopied page of journal cut off] . . . it is felt that that would not be wise because Brother McConkie is one of the General Authorities, and it might lessen his influence. The First Presidency recommend that the situation be left as it is, and whenever a question about it arises, we can answer that it is unauthoritative; that it was issued by Brother McConkie on his own responsibility, and he must answer for it.
I reported that the First Presidency had talked to Brother McConkie this morning, and he said he will do whatever the Brethren want him to do. He will not attempt to republish the book nor to say anything by letter, and if he answers letters or inquiries that he will answer them in accordance with the suggestions made by the Brethren, and not advocate those things concerning which question had been raised as contained in the book.
The Brethren unanimously approved of this.
I then said that the First Presidency further recommend that when any member of the General Authorities desires to write a book, that the Brethren of the Twelve or the First Presidency be consulted regarding it. While the author need not get the approval of these Brethren, they should know before it is published that a member of the General Authorities wants to publish a book. I said it may seem all right for the writer of the book to say, I only am responsible for it, but I said you cannot separate your position from your individuality, and we should like the authors to present their books to the Twelve or a Committee appointed. I asked the Brethren of the Twelve to convey this information to the other General Authorities. On motion, this became the consensus of the Council.
LETTERS FROM McKAY TO CHURCH MEMBERS REGARDING McCONKIES MORMON DOCTRINE AND OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED BY INDIVIDUAL GENERAL AUTHORITIES
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 E. South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay, President
February 3, 1959
Dr. A. Kent Christensen
Department of Anatomy
Cornell University Medical College
1300 York Avenue
New York 21, New York
Dear Brother Christensen:
I have your letter of January 23, 1959 in which you ask for a statement of the Churchs position on the subject of evolution.
The Church has issued not official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.
Neither Man, His Origin and Destiny by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor Mormon Doctrine by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church. . . .
David O. McKay
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay
September 24, 1964
Dr. Lorenzo Lisonbee, Science Consultant
Phoenix Union High School System
District Adminstration Annex
2042 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, Arizona (85015)
Dear Dr. Lisonbee :
President McKay, who is recuperating at home under doctorss orders from his recent illness, has asked me to acknowledge for him your letter of September 8, 1964.
I have been directed to say that individual General Authorities of the Church publish books on their own responsibility, the publishing of which is not regarded as Church approval of the books. The Church approves only books which have been authorized for publication by the General Authorities of the Church, such as the Standard Works of the Church and authorized textbooks adopted by official action of the Church for the Priesthood and the organizations fo the Church.
President David O. McKay
|Subject:||It's curious, with all the fireworks from the First Presidency...|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:25|
|That the Church still quotes extensively from Mormon Doctrine in official publications.|
|Subject:||I would chalk that up largely to the personal biases/agendas of those working on Church Corrlelation committees . . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:32|
|with the charge of creating and approving Church teaching materials.
At the highest level, the Church has officially distanced itself from McConkie's work.
At lower levels, however, theological termites busy themselves burrowing into the instructional structure of the Church where they continue to lay their own doctrinal eggs.
|Subject:||Doesn't the Quorum of the Twelve and the 1st Presidency....|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:38|
|Pay attention to the official publications coming out on doctrinal
matters, especially like Gospel Doctrine and the other more readily accessible
materials? I should hope that at least one of the big Poobahs would oversee this.
Then again, it might be a case where they're backing away from documents like the Catholic Church does. They'll still believe in what is said, but won't transmit the doctrine in such harsh terms -- such as the Catechism of the Council of Trent (pretty hardcore).
|Subject:||Which is why they need, Shak. . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:40|
|. . .an imprimatur and a nihil obstat in Mormonism.
Some people have simply assumed that a publication by either Deseret Book or Bookcraft amounted to the same thing.
|Subject:||That would never work....|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:46|
|If they did that, they'd have to give ecclesiastical approbation to doctrines that they'd have to change officially down the road.|
|Subject:||It is, perhaps, a matter of ignorance combined with a knowing wink|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:42|
|... on the part of some GAs who would like to see their own agendas
advanced through Church publications.
Complicating this is the large Church bureaucracy. Dallin Oaks told me in October 1993 that he didn't "know what goes on over in the High Rise," referring to the Church Office Building.
|Subject:||OK...so how DID it get republished...|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:39|
|and then he became an apostle (or was he one at the time)? Just interested...I've always been suspicious of the book even when I was a TBM.|
|Subject:||That is an interesting question . . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:48|
|for which I do not have the answer.
Joseph Fielding Smith (McConkie's father-in-law) was President of the Quorum at the time of the initial brouhaha over the book and later, of course, became Church president.
Both McConkie and Smith had published their own massive gospel treatises purporting to expound Mormon doctrine (McConkie with his "Mormon Doctrine," when he was a member of the Council of the Seventy and Smith with his "Man, His Origin and Destiny," when Smith was a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve).
They were both exceedingly dogmatic, everlastingly convinced they were right and virtually identitical in most, if not all of their interpretations of Mormon doctrine.
Perhaps there was some "loosening" of restrictions initially imposed by McKay, once Smith's star began to rise to the very top of Church power.
McConkie may have seen the opportunity, hitched his own star to that of his father-in-law's and slipped his banned book through to republication.
Who knows? I wish I did.
|Subject:||How BRM was able to re-publish...|
|Date:||Mar 22 21:00|
|My thinking is that shortly after McKay's dressing-down of McConkie,
he began to get old and senile. In his last years, his hand-picked counselor Alvin R. Dyer
effectively ran the church. And Dyer was as much an old-line fundamentalist as were JFS
and BRM, as evidenced by his well-circulated sermon "For What Purpose?"
And then when McKay died and JFS took control, he allowed his son-in-law BRM to republish a revised version of MD. And BRM went on to inherit JFS's mantle of the #1 scriptorian and theologian of his time. BRM's revised MD became the "right arm" reference work of tens of thousands of Mormons throughout the '70s and '80s.
And of course, MD is still quoted in church literature today, as well as in modern GA's conference talks, which indicates that MD is still considered orthodox and reliable. It is only when an "anti-Mormon" brings up embarrassing quotes from the first edition that Mopologists disavow it. Sorta like Mopologists will disavow the JoD when an "anti-Mormon" quotes from it on blood atonement, etc.---but then the JoD is quoted as a primary reference work for modern church-published materials (such as the 1997 lesson manual "The Teachings of Brigham Young.")
As for the acceptability of JFS's teachings, let's not forget that his 3-volume "Doctrines of Salvation" was re-published by Deseret Book as part of a collection of paperbacks in the late '70s. The set also included "Discourses of Brigham Young", "Gospel Doctrine" by Joseph F. Smith, "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith", "Articles of Faith" by Talmadge, "Miracle of Forgiveness" by SWK, etc.
"Doctrines of Salvation" contained many of the same ideas and teachings as did MD, but Mormons don't go around saying DOS is repudiated.
|Subject:||Re: How BRM was able to re-publish...|
|Date:||Mar 23 00:55|
|I thought Mormon Doctrine was re-published in a 2nd edition in 1967,
which was before McKay died. According to the book, BRUCE MCCONKIE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM HIS
LIFE AND TEACHINGS, in a chapter devoted to MORMON DOCTRINE, it detailed the brethren
taking issue with some things in the book. They appointed a few people to comb through the
book and produce a list of issues.
Two or three people then sat down with McConkie to go over the list. He made the revisions to Mormon Doctrine as they wished and it was allowed to be republished in a second edition.
Anyone having the first edition should hang on to it!
You can get the biography above at
|Subject:||Thanks for sharing these, Steve. . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 19:35|
|. . .they are obviously important in helping current and former
members of the LDS Church put that volume in proper perspective.
Interestingly, when I was at BYU, and bought my own personal copy at BYU bookstore, I don't remember any particular disclaimer regarding it, and wasn't aware until later that the Church had stopped publishing it.
It's very helpful when you share information like this. Thanks.
|Subject:||I was a good mormon for 35 years...|
|Date:||Mar 22 20:13|
|and no one ever said one word about Mormon Doctrine not being authorized! It was used all the time. I suspect this would surprise a lot of people.|
|Subject:||I'm sure the Tanners have know this for decades.....|
|Date:||Mar 22 21:12|
|Photocopies of the letters Steve referred to can be seen at
|Subject:||Trumped by the all-knowing Google God, I see . . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 21:46|
|I have had photocopies of those letters in my files for a couple of
decades and referred to them publicly for the first time here today.
Little did I know that the Infinite and Eternal Internet had me beat.
And all that time I spent typing them in here, damn . . .
Thanks for the info and the link.
|Subject:||Even today, it is relevant to ask ' Where DOES one find a concise, official summary of church doctrine? '|
|Date:||Mar 22 20:27|
|The fact that McConkie's book was received so well by the membership should have been a signal to church leaders that such a work was needed. Even today, leaders and members refer to 'unofficial' sources to clarify doctrine etc.|
|Subject:||For many, it was really the closest thing to a Catechism. . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 20:30|
|. . .that anyone in the LDS Church had. Agreed.|
|Subject:||Encyclopedia of Mormonism . . .|
|Date:||Mar 22 21:44|
|This would be a better reference for both members and non-members alike and supposedly its contents had considerable input/direction from the first presidency.|
|Subject:||Encyclopedia of Mormonism|
|Date:||Mar 22 21:49|
|I know two people personally who worked on the Encyclopedia of
Mormonism, one of whom is my uncle.
While it filled a void in LDS publishing, I would not exactly call it the equivalent of a Catechism.
|Date:||Mar 22 21:17|
|Steve, thanks for sharing part of your library with us. One things
that jumped out for me (not necessarily about the book, but the phrasing of the letters)
was from President McKays office journal.
that the republication of the book should be forbidden and that the book should be repudiated in such a way as to save the career of the author as one of the General Authorities of the Church.
Referring to a General Authority as his career.
|Date:||Mar 23 01:43|
|That part jumped off the page for me too! Glad to see it wasn't just my pragmatism working overtime.|
|Subject:||Re: Bruce R. McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine:"|
|Date:||Mar 23 02:23|
|I remember reading parts from the first edition in which McConkie
states that the Catholic Church is the "whore of all the earth" which is
mentioned in the Bible.
I bought the 2nd edition hot off the press and started quoting from it in Church around 1967, I think.
Never once was it brought to my attention that it was not absolutely correct Mormon doctrine. This was in So Calif.
Also, subsequently in hundreds of Church meetings it was never faulted, at least in my presence.