The observation has been made on this board (quite accurately) that trying to nail the LDS Church down on what represents its official doctrines is like, well, nailing Mormon green Jell-O to a wall (see: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,950140
No better proof of that reality was personally provided me in a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation I had with Apostle Bruce R. McConkie in his Salt Lake City home about the topic of what exactly constitutes official Mormon Church doctrine.
It was a bizarre, convoluted, rat-maze of an experience--one which demonstrated to me that McConkie was an absolute narcissist whose notions of what comprised official Mormon Church doctrine revolved around--indeed, solely around--what King Bruce said it was.
In broader reality, however, this befuddling phenomenon goes far beyond McConkie to the very heart of Mormonism's doctrine-less jiggly Jell-O pan. In truth, the Mormon Church has no consistent, reliable or predictable official doctrinal positions on anything--given that all of its so-called doctrines are subject to change as determined by the needs of the moment.
But back to Bruce.
When I was a student at BYU in the 1970s, I decided to do a research paper on the official LDS position on organic evolution. Much of my effort to write an accurate account on the subject involved repeated, and often frustrating, attempts to solicit answers from the Mormon Church hierarchy.
During my research, I met and spoke with then-Apostle McConkie.
A blow-by-blow account of that meeting follows below, taken from personal notes I made of our discussion, which took place at McConkie's private residence, 260 Dorchester Drive, in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Monday, 7 July 1980, from 5:45 to 7:30 p.m
EZRA TAFT BENSON ARRANGES THE MEETING
On the day of my conversation with McConkie, I had visited earlier, for approximately three-and-a-half hours, with my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, then-president of the Council of the Twelve, in his Salt Lake City apartment, located in the Bonneville Towers, 777 East South Temple.
During that visit, the conversation turned to my evolution research project. In the course of that discussion, my grandfather and I talked about McConkie's recent 14-stake fireside address, entitled "The Seven Deadly Heresies," which he had delivered five weeks earlier, on 1 June 1980, in Brigham Young University's Marriott Center.
In his sermon, McConkie listed as "Heresy Two" the "false and devilish" notion advanced by "those who say that revealed religion and organic evolution can be harmonized."Such claims, McConkie told his student audience, did not represent "true science" but, rather, "the false religions of the dark ages . . . some of which have crept in among us."
Moreover, while McConkie noted that "true religion and true science bear the same witness," he declared that the theory of organic evolution could "in no way" be harmonized "with the truths of science as they have now been discovered."
To believe otherwise, McConkie said, ran completely counter to "the saving doctrine" of revealed religion. That doctrine, he said, included "that Adam stood next to Christ in power and might and intelligence before the foundations of the world were laid; that Adam was placed on this earth as an immortal being; that there was no death in the world for him or for any form of life until after the fall; that the fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world; that this temporal death passed upon all forms of life, upon man and animal and fish and fowl and plant life; that Christ came to ransom man and all forms of life from the effects of the temporal death brought into the world through the fall and, in the case of man, from the spiritual death also, and that this includes a resurrection for man and for all forms of life. Try as you may, you cannot harmonize these things with the evolutionary postulate that death existed and that the various forms of life have evolved from preceding forms over astronomiclaly long periods of time."
As proof that "the theories of men"--i.e., the theories of organic evolution--were out of harmony with "the inspired word", McConkie cited 2 Nephi 2:22-26, which he quoted in full:
"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
"And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
"But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
"Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
"And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall."
To believe, he said, that "the theoretical postulates of Darwinism and the diverse speculations descending therefrom" can somehow be accomdoated by revealed religion denied the very atonement of Christ, which McConkie called "the great and eternal foundaiton upon which revealed religion rests."
According to McConkie, belief in organic evolution rendered the doctrine of the atonement ineffectual for the following reasons:
"If death has always prevailed in the world, there was no fall of Adam which brought death to all forms of life. If Adam did not fall, there is no need for an atonement. If there was no atonement, there is no salvation, no resurrection, no eternal life, nothing in all of the glorious promises that the Lord has given us. If there is no salvation, there is no God. The fall affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself. The atonement affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself."
I asked my grandfather if McConkie's address represented the official position of the Mormon Church on the theory of organic evolution. In so inquiring, I mentioned to him that my father, Mark A. Benson (Ezra Taft's second son) was seriously considering writing President Spencer W. Kimball to ask the same question. In response, my grandfather lowered his head, smiled slightly and replied in careful and measured tones that he did not want to say too much, for fear that he "might slip."
He did, however, tell me that prior to its delivery at BYU, McConkie's address had been reviewed by "the Brethren." He said that McConkie himself had offered to make any changes in the prepared text, but that none were requested. Nonetheless, my grandfather twice noted that "it was understood that the talk represented the views of Elder McConkie."
At this point in our conversation, my grandfather suggested that it might be good for me to speak directly with McConkie on this matter. Still a true-believing Mormon at the time, I replied that I would consider it to be a great honor to meet a man whom I considered to be one of the greatest living scriptorians in the Church. I added, however, that I did not want to be an imposition. My grandfather assured me that McConkie would be happy to speak with me, assuming that an appropriate time and place could be arranged.
I told my grandfather I would be available to meet with him anytime, anywhere, and would only want to take a few minutes of his time to clarify in my own mind some of the important questions that seemed (at least to me) to be in need of definitive answers regarding the official position of the Mormon Church on the theory of organic evolution.
At this point (approximately 3:45 p.m.), as I looked on, my grandfather went over to the phone and made a personal call to McConkie, who was still in his Church office. After chatting with McConkie for a few minutes, my grandfather hung up and informed me that the meeting had been arranged for 5:30 that same afternoon, at McConkie's home.
Once the initial excitement had subsided somewhat, I expressed concern to my grandfather that, in the upcoming question-and-answer session with McConkie, I did not want to appear to be lacking faith and testimoney in McConkie's divine calling and apostleship. In particular, I was somewhat anxious that my inquiries, although sincere, might be misinterpreted and prove offensive to McConkie, who was known for his forthright, umcompromising views--which views appeared to some to reflect a certain degree of sternness and even harshness, when "laying down the line" in areas of Church doctrine.
My grandfather reassured me that McConkie was "a very gracious man," with sons my own age (I was a 26-year-old BYU student at the time). He encouraged me to be as frank with McConkie in my questioning as I had been with him.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE BRUCE KIND
By coincidence, I had already planned to meet my father in downtown Salt Lake City after my visit with my grandfather and be driven to my parents' residence, where I was staying during summer vacation. When I slid into the front seat of my father's car at 5:15 that afternoon and informed him of the scheduled meeting with McConkie in 15 minutes, he was pleasantly surprised. He offered to take me to McConkie's home, which I hoped he would do, since I had not other means of getting there in the few minutes remaining before the scheduled appointment.
As we drove to McConkie's home, I told my father that while I was certainly not adverse to having him sit in on my conversation with McConkie, I regarded the visit as a unique one-on-one opportunity to ask McConkie whatever questions I felt were necessary to provide a clearer understanding of the LDS Church's position on the theory of organic evolution, as well as of the connections, if any, between the Church's official position and the position of McConkie, as outlined in McConkie's "Deadly Heresies" BYU sermon.
My father said he understood and offered to drop me off at McConkie's home, then return to pick me up after our visit was concluded. I did not feel that was necessary and suggested that we "play it by ear." If McConkie invited both of us into his home, as I expected he would, I felt I would not be inhibited, as long as my father honored my request to be able to interact freely with McConkie, without interruption--no matter how well intended that interruption might be.
McConkie greeted us warmly at the door, presenting an image quite different from the Bruce the Concrete-Hearted that I, and millions of others, had come to expect from his stiff-as-a-board-for-the-Lord conference talks. He was dressed in an open-necked yellow sports shirt, slacks and house slippers. (And all this time I thought he had been born in a dark blue suit).
He turned to me, grinned and asked if there was anything I did not want my father to hear during our conversation. I said no, whereupon, McConkie ushered us into his comfortable, sun-lit living room. My father and I sat on a sofa, approximately 10 feet across from McConkie, who seated himself in a chair next to a lampstand on which rested his scriptures and some other papers. His demeanor was relaxed and helped put me at ease. The atmosphere throughout our conversation was open and friendly. McConkie encouraged me, on more than one occasion during our discussion, not to hesitate in asking whatever I wanted.
In keeping with my previous request, my father sat and listened silently.
McCONKIE, STUDENT OF SCIENCE
I asked McConkie if he thought organic evolution was true. Not surprisingly, he replied that he did not. In fact, he said the theory of organic evolution was "logically and scripturally absurd."
McConkie told me, however, that he had taken some science classes as a student at the University of Utah "but never felt that they were the ultimate truth."McConkie also confessed that he would answer final exam questions the way he thought his professors expected, in order to pass the courses.
I found this interesting coming from a man who had denounced the education system for teaching deadly heresies.
THE SCRIPTURES, ONE-CELLED AMOEBAS, DINOSAURS IN THE MUD AND NOAH'S FLOOD
McConkie attacked organic evolution from holy writ, telling me that "Adam was the first flesh of all flesh, more than just the first man."
"Plants," he said, "are created by seeds being planted. If the Lord has made worlds without number, why would He use evolution from a one-celled amoeba?"
On the question of dinosaurs, McConkie claimed that they were probably killed by Noah's Flood, based on the fact that "large concentrations of their bones have been found in mud."
REJECTING SCIENCE FOR RELIGION
In the end, however, McConkie did not rely on his view of scientific evidence to debunk organic evolution. He told me, "I don't attempt to harmonize the theory of organic evolution with revealed truth. I'm not going to talk about the truth or falsity of organic evolution. I'll leave that up to biologists. I accept revealed religion. If science and religion don't harmonize, then I reject and discard science."
"THE SEVEN DEADLY HERESIES"
I mentioned to McConkie that several members of the Church, particularly students and professors at BYU, were asking if his 1 June 1980 "Seven Deadly Heresies" fireside address constituted the official position of the Church.
In response to my direct inquiry, "Does your talk represent the official position of the Church on the theory of organic evolution?," McConkie said that the Church did not have to submit questions concerning doctrine to its membership in order to make them "the stand of the Church" (the latter was a phrase which he emphasized frequently during our conversation).
In reference to his "Seven Deadly Heresies" speech, McConkie said, "This is my view on what I interpret to be the stand of the Church." As he subsequently built a scriptural case to support his interpretation, McConkie often used the same phrase: "This is my view," when explaining the doctrinal stand of the MOrmon Church on the theory of organic evolution.
McConkie mentioned that, in the wake of his "Deadly Heresies" sermon, his office had been inundated with requests for copies, with 35 phone calls received by his secretaries in a single two-hour period. In fact, he said, there was greater interest in this particular address than in all other speeches he had previously given. He went on to say that while he had not intended for his remarks to appear directed primarily at the theory of organic evolution, judging from the response he perhaps should have devoted his entire speech to the subject.
KIMBALL DIDN'T KNOW THAT HE KNEW
I asked Mconkie about the fact that, in personalcorrespondence with then-Church President Kimball on the LDS stand regarding organic evolution, Kimball admitted to me that he was not aware of the official position of the Church as found in a First Presidency statement entitled "The Origin of Man," issued in 1909. (Joseh F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anton H. Lund, "The Origin of Man," Improvement Era, vol. 13, November 1909, p. 75-81)
McConkie responded by insisting that Kimball did, in fact, know about it. He said "he just forgot" that he knew.
CRITICIZING THE PROPHETS
I asked why President Joseph F. Smith, while prophet/editor of the "Improvement Era," had told inquiring Church members that God had not fully answered how the bodies of Adam and Eve were created. McConkie informed me that, in fact, this "was not [Joseph F. Smith's] position." I asked him how he knew that. He said, "Jospeh Fielding Smith told me so."
McConkie went on to say, "A prophet is not always a prophet," admitting, "I can be just as wrong as the next guy." He added, "Prophets can be wrong on organic evolution, of course. And have been wrong."
I informed McConkie that David O. McKay, while president of the Church, had told BYU students in a campus speech that organic evolution was a beautiful theory. McConkie responded by saying that if McKay made such a statement, he was not operating under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
I also told McConkie that McKay and other Church presidents had authorized the sending of letters to inquiring Church members, tinforming them that the Church had not official position on the theory of organic evolution. McConkie dismissed such correspondence as "underground letters" and said it differed fundamentally from the First Presidency's 1909 statement on the origin of man.
(About that statement, McConkie, in his "Deadly Seven Heresies" sermon had warned: "Do not be deceived and led to believe that the famous document of the First Presidnecy issued in the day of President Joseph F. Smith and entitled, 'the Origin of Man,' means anything except exactly what it says").
McConkie also criticized President Brigham Young for teaching the Adam-God doctrine, which McConkie told me was "false."
Furthermore, he even criticized his father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith, telling me he was "out of his field" in trying to use science against organic evolution in his book, "Man: His Origin and Destiny." McConkie said, "He should have stayed in the areas in which he was trained: scriptures and theology."
McConkie warned me that straying from the scriptures--even if one was a prophet--was to ask for trouble because, he said, people end up "quoting authority against authority."
In the end, he said, "seeking authoritative statements doesn't solve the problem. People are always seeking authoritative statements. Authorities confict." Besides, he cautioned me, "Cults are created by the endorsement of certain authorities."
FIND THE TRUTH ON ORGANIC EVOLUTION IN THE SCRIPTURES, NOT FROM THE LIVING PROPHETS
If the reliablity of MOrmon Church leaders was suspect, then I wanted to know from McConkie where to turn in order to find the official, authoritative Mormon stand on the theory of organic evolution. McConkie replied slowly, "This is my view on what I believe to be the stand of the Church: The doctrinal stand of the Church is found in revealed scripture."
With sweeping disapproval, he declared, "Organic evolution does not and cannot account for a paradisical earth, the millennium, an exalted earth and man, the resurrection of man and animals and the pre-existence."
McConkie argued that, ultimately, God's truth was found in the canonized Standard Works, not in the words of living prophets. He told me that the "Standard Works" are called such because they are the standard against which all other claims are measured, including those made by living prophets.
THE OFFICIAL MORMON POSITON ON ORGANIC EVOLUTION
I asked McConkie what was the stand of the Mormon Church on organic evolution, as found in the scriptures. He replied by telling me that the Church would never accept the theory of organic evoluiton as being true "as long as it fails to show that there was no death before the Fall of Adam."
I pressed him by asking him to explain for me the actual official Church position on organic evolution. McConkie responded by letting me in on some inside information.
He said that the First Presidency had been considering whether to issue a statement on the theory of organic evolution for "over a year." Sometime during that period, he said, they had "sat down and listened to the entire 1909 statement."
McConkie said the First Presidency had also sat and listened to him. He said he was asked to write a statement on organic evolution for possible use by the First Presidency. That directive came, McConkie continued, after Kimball walked into McConkie's office carrying a letter I had earlier sent to Kimball, along with enclosures, asking Kimball for clarification on the official Mormon Church position on organic evolution.
My grandfather confirmed to me that this episode had taken place. In a September 1979 phone conversation between us, he told me that McConkie had been given a copy of one of my letters to Kimball, together with attached statements made by presidents Joseph F. Smith and David O. Mckay on the theory of organic evolution. That letter from me to Kimball prompted McConkie to write up his proposed draft statement on the subject for the First Presidency.
McConkie told me that he responded by composing what he called "a special statement prepared for the First Presidency"--a 42-page document entitled "Man--His Origin, Fall and Redemption." He told me that Kimball and one of his counselors, Marian G. Romney, had "personally agreed" to have McConkie draft the statement. McConkie said the remaining counselor, N. Eldon Tanner, "did not participate" in making the recommendation.
McConkie's version of the above events was also confirmed by Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis in their book, "Brigham Young Univeristy: A House of Faith" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1985, p. 169]:
"By mid-1979, Elder Bruce R. McConkie had compiled for the First Presidency a 42-page manuscript entitled, "Man--His Origin, Fall and Redemption,' characterizing evolution as one of several 'speculative theories of the world.'" (Again, this was the anti-evolution manuscript that my grandfather told me McConkie had drafted for the First Presidency after Kimball provided McConkie with a cppy of the letter I had sent to Kimball asking Kimball for an authoritative Church position on organic evolution).
My grandfather, in the same September 1979 phone conversation, informed me that McConkie's 42-page anti-evolution draft had been "considered favorably by the First Presidency." He said that McConkie had, in fact, discussed his paper with members of the First Presidency on 30 August 1979 and that they "agreed with it."
I asked McConkie what his document included. He replied that it quoted President John Taylor, whom he described as "definitely anti-evolution." He also informed me that a scaled-down version of this manuscript was eventually delivered by him in the form of his BYU "Seven Deadly Heresies" sermon.
Following my meeting with McConkie, I wrote a him a letter thanking him for the chance to meet and asking if he would send me a copy of his "Man--His Origin, Fall and Redemption" manuscript so that I might "more fully understand the scriptural reasoning behind your treatment of these subjects." He never responded.
My grandfather subsequently, and unexpectedly, informed me that the First Presidency had decided against issuing an official First Presidency statement on evolution--one he had earlier told me had been in the works for release in conjunction with the Church's 1980 sesquicentennial anniversary.
Bergera and Priddis report that "[w]hen the First Presidency elected not to issue a public statement, Elder McConkie concluded that the burden of addressing the issue rested with individual Church leaders. Less than three months later [June 1980] at a BYU SUnday evening devotional, McConkie delivered the harshest deununciation of organic evolution to date [his "Seven Deadly Heresies" speech]."
In our conversation in McConkie's living room, I also asked him if there would, at some point, be a current First Presidency statement issued on the Mormon Church's official stand on the theory of organic evolution. He answered by insisting that just because the sitting First Presidency had not issued an official statement on the subject did not mean it did not have one.
I asked McConkie why, if the Mormon Church actually had an official position on organic evolution, did it not go ahead and make it known. McConkie said it had not done so because the Church did not want to pick fights with its vulnerable members. He explained, "It's a matter of temporizing, of not making a statement to prevent the driving out of the weak Saints. It's a quesiton of wisdom, not of truth."
He compared it to calling the Catholic Church "the Church of the Devil." He said while such a statement was true, one had to be careful about saying it, so as not to offend Catholics. Interestingly enough, McConkie's attack on the Catholic Church in the first edition of his book, "Mormon Doctrine," referred to it as the "Church of the Devil." That description was removed from the book's second edition in 1966. So, I asked him why it was taken out. He replied that it was excised not because it was not doctrinally sound but because it was too difficult for people to accept; its removal had nothing to do with the theological truth of his original description.
By now, I was feeling increasingly frustrated.
I pressed McConkie on what he thought the position of the Church on organic evolution might be. He replied, "Don't be deceived. The Church is not neutral. It has taken a stand."
I asked him what that stand was. He replied, "Henry Eyring's position is President Kimball's position." He didn't explain what Eyring's position was. In 1979, however, I had written Kimball, requesting that he tell me the official position of the Mormon Church on the theory of organic evolution. In a 24 May 1979 reply, Kimball asked me, "I am wondering if you have read the book of Henry Eyring, 'The Faith of the Scientiest [sic].' Undoubtedly, this book will be found in the library at BYU. I would be glad to hear from you concerning this matter."
I was familiar with the book, having been given a copy by my grandfather some years earlier. I wrote Kimball back, taking him up on his offer to share my thoughts about Eyring's book. In my reply letter to him, I noted how Eyring said that science benefits religion by helping it sort fact from fiction. I asked Kimball just how scientifically reliable the scriptural stories were that proclaimed the earth to be merely 6,000 years old and that declared there was no physical death before Adam. I suggested the Genesis account did not seem to square with strong physical evidence pointing to old rocks, long-dead fossils and evolved humans.
I concluded my letter by telling Kimball that it appeared to me that the Church was avoiding taking an official position for or against the theory of organic evolution. I asked him if he would not mind commenting on that observation. Kimball never wrote me back.
THE MEETING ENDS
I sensed McConkie and I had reached the point of no further return on investment. The visit wrapped up politely but, for me, quite unsatisfactorily.
This much, however, I came away with in regard to the nature, meaning and manifestation of official Mormon Church doctrine--at least as explained by Bruce R. McConkie:
1) Offical Mormon Church doctrine is found in the scriptural Standard Works of the LDS Church;
2) Official Mormon Church doctrine is not found in the statements of the living Mormon Church president, unless what that president declares ro be true is in strict harmony with the teachings of the Standard Works;
3) The meaning of the Standard Works' teachings is determined, interpreted and declared by Bruce R. McConkie; and, finally . . .
4) There is no official Mormon Church doctrine, other than what McConkie says it is, based on his personal reading of Mormon scripture--meaning that official Mormon Church doctrine is a product of distillation brought to you by the Mormon Cult of Personality, with McConkie being the self-appointed Head Personality when it came to matters of doctrinal purity.
Trouble is, McConkie's dead.
Not only that, for a cult that makes and breaks its rules as it goes along, official Mormon Church doctrine has never lived.
And quit thinking about it. It will only get you in trouble with the infighting Brethren.
Edited 38 time(s). Last edit at 07/11/2013 07:58AM by steve benson.