“Chapter Forty-Four: The Church Lengthens Its Stride,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 579–90
“Chapter Forty-Four,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 579–90
Following the unexpected1 death of President Harold B. Lee on 26 December 1973, Spencer W. Kimball became the twelfth President of the Church. He humbly announced, “We will, in large measure, carry forward the same program, which we have helped in a small way to make and give it greater emphasis to carry forward the work as much as our talents and abilities will permit.”2 Despite this modest declaration, President Kimball’s administration would be noted for numerous and far-reaching innovations.
Spencer W. Kimball was born in Salt Lake City on 28 March 1895. When he was only three years old his family moved to southeastern Arizona, where he lived until his call as a General Authority. From his parents, Spencer learned the importance of tithe paying and obedience. He demonstrated an early interest in spiritual things—memorizing the Articles of Faith while milking the cows, reading the scriptures by the light of a coal oil lamp, and maintaining a nearly perfect attendance record at Church meetings. As a boy he also set a pattern of hard work, pitching hay alongside the men, using a special short-handled fork his father provided. Spencer suffered facial paralysis, which was overcome by a priesthood blessing. He drowned while swimming in a canal, but was successfully revived. His mother died when he was only eleven years old. Such experiences taught him important lessons of patience, courage, and faith.
Following service in the Central States Mission, he married Camilla Eyring, and they became the parents of four children. As a banker and businessman, he soon became a community leader. He was twenty-three years old when he was called to be a stake clerk, and he became a counselor in the stake presidency just a few years later. When the new Mount Graham Stake was created in 1938, he became its first president. He was serving in this capacity when his call to the apostleship came five years later.
A phone call from Salt Lake City in 1943 completely changed Spencer W. Kimball’s life. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., phoned to notify him of his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Kimball recalled, “I sensed immediately my inability and limitations and I cried back, ‘Not me, Brother Clark! You can’t mean that!’” For the next several weeks he settled his affairs, taking steps to ensure that no one felt he had dealt with him or her unfairly.
Elder Kimball continued, “I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, ‘until the breaking of the day,’ for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for eighty-five nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me.”3
As a member of the Twelve, Elder Kimball’s influence was quickly felt throughout the Church. He became an important member of the committees that prayerfully considered how the tithing funds of the Church should be spent. His appointment as chairman of the Church’s Indian committee was particularly close to his heart because of his long-standing interest in the Indian people. His masterful discourses had a powerful impact on the Latter-day Saints. Using vivid imagery, he effectively taught the Saints the importance of personal purity and pleaded with them to carry out the Church’s responsibilities toward the various groups identified as Lamanites.
Serious health problems plagued Elder Kimball. In 1957 throat cancer threatened to rob him of his voice. He agonized, “Shall I ever speak at another temple dedication? Shall I ever preach again?” Following much prayer and fasting, however, the needed operation proved to be less radical than expected. Nevertheless, Elder Kimball lost most of his vocal cords. As he learned to speak again, he continued to ask himself, “Will my gruff fringe voice be an affront to the people?”4 It was not long, however, until the Saints came to respect and heed and love Elder Kimball’s “new voice.”
Then in 1972 a problem with his heart recurred, and he underwent a particularly complicated open-heart operation. With the faith of many people and through the outstanding skill of a devoted Latter-day Saint surgeon, Dr. Russell M. Nelson, Elder Kimball’s life once again was spared. Just prior to the surgery, the First Presidency blessed Dr. Nelson. “They blessed me that the operation would be performed without error, that all would go well, … for I had been raised up by the Lord to perform this operation.” It went flawlessly. As Elder Kimball’s heart resumed beating with power and vigor, Dr. Nelson recalled, “The Spirit told me that I had just operated upon a man who would become president of the Church.”5 Despite physical difficulties, Elder Kimball set a legendary example of long hours of selfless and devoted service in building up the kingdom of God. A motto prominently displayed on his desk proclaimed simply “Do It.” These experiences helped prepare Spencer W. Kimball to lead the Church when the call came.
As Spencer W. Kimball assumed the presidency of the Church, he chose to retain the same counselors who had served with his predecessor. This meant that N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor, had served as a counselor to four Presidents of the Church, a record not exceeded in Church history. President Tanner not only provided inspired counsel to the Saints and capable administrative leadership to the Church, but he also reached out to bless the community as a whole. Non–Latter-day Saint businessmen and educational leaders in Salt Lake City honored him for his selfless and effective community service. President Kimball’s second counselor, President Marion G. Romney, had served as a General Authority longer than anyone else in the First Presidency, having been named as one of the original Assistants to the Twelve in 1941—two years before President Kimball had been called to the Twelve. For more than three decades his powerful leadership and scripture-centered teachings had motivated the Saints to improve both their spiritual and temporal welfare.
At the regional representatives’ seminar in April 1974, Elder W. Grant Bangerter remembered that President Kimball had not spoken very long when “we became alert to an astonishing spiritual presence, … different from any of our previous meetings. It was as if, spiritually speaking, our hair began to stand on end. … President Kimball was opening spiritual windows and … inviting us to view with him the destiny of the gospel and the vision of its ministry.”6
President Kimball spoke for forty-five minutes to the regional representatives, delivering what became one of his most oft-quoted discourses and set the pace for his administration:
“It seems to me that the Lord chose his words when he said [the gospel must go to] ‘every nation,’ ‘every land,’ ‘uttermost bounds of the earth,’ ‘every tongue,’ ‘every people,’ ‘every soul,’ ‘all the world,’ ‘many lands.’
“Surely there is significance in these words!
“… A universal command!
“My brethren, I wonder if we are doing all we can. Are we complacent in our approach to teaching all the world? … Are we prepared to lengthen our stride? To enlarge our vision? …
“I believe the Lord can do anything he sets his mind to do.
“But I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are not prepared to enter. Why should he break down the Iron Curtain or the Bamboo Curtain or any other curtain if we are still unprepared to enter?
“I believe we have men who could help the apostles to open these doors—statesmen, able and trustworthy—but, when we are ready for them. …
“A year ago now I was in Japan and Korea, and … I seemed to envision a great movement when there would be thousands of local men prepared and anxious and strong to go abroad. … I seemed to envision again Mexican youth and Latins from Central and South America in great numbers qualifying themselves for missionary service within their own country and then finally in other lands until the army of the Lord’s missionaries would cover the earth as the waters cover the mighty deep.”7
“When President Kimball concluded, President Ezra Taft Benson arose and with a voice filled with emotion, echoing the feeling of all present, said, in substance: ‘President Kimball, … we have never heard such an address as you have just given. Truly, there is a prophet in Israel.’”8
In order to promote this worldwide expansion of the gospel, the First Presidency called David M. Kennedy to be a special consultant on diplomatic affairs. Brother Kennedy, who had served in a stake presidency in Chicago, had ample secular background for this significant assignment. He had been chairman of the board and chief executive officer of one of the United States banks most heavily engaged in international business. He had also served as United States secretary of the treasury, ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and ambassador at large for the United States. In succeeding years he played a key role working with governments of many nations in order to resolve problems that had hindered the Church’s activities there.9 He was instrumental in arranging for mature couples to serve as special representatives of the Church in countries where traditional missionary work was not yet possible. One of his outstanding achievements in 1977 was securing legal status and official recognition for the Church in Poland. This opened the way for a visit by President Kimball to Warsaw, where he “dedicated the land of Poland and blessed its people that the work of the Lord might go forth.”10
During these same years, others were involved in negotiations with the government of Israel that led to the Church developing the five-acre Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the old city of Jerusalem.11
President Kimball emphasized the importance of every young man being worthy and prepared to serve a mission. In 1976 the Church’s Language Training Mission moved into a new multibuilding complex near the campus of Brigham Young University. In 1978 the Salt Lake City mission home was closed, and English-speaking missionaries, primarily from the United States and Canada, began to receive instruction at this new facility, which was renamed the Missionary Training Center. Since 1978 training centers have been established in many countries to enhance the preparation of local young men and women called to serve in those areas.
Latter-day Saint performing groups from various college campuses became another effective means of building goodwill toward the Church. In 1978 a group from BYU presented music and dance variety shows in Poland and in the Soviet Union. Before their tour, the performers spent several weeks studying the cultures and languages of the peoples they would visit so that they could announce their numbers in the local language and greet audience members individually following the performances. They were eager to communicate the spirit of the gospel by setting a good example and by radiating love. In both countries the performers were well received and their performances were taped for later release on nationwide television. The following year, another group made similar preparations for a tour of mainland China. Here again their presentations in the most prestigious concert halls of the country, as well as impromptu performances in factories, were highly appreciated. Additional tours in succeeding years continued to spread goodwill throughout the world.12
BYU sports teams also helped make friends for the Church. In the fall of 1984 the BYU Cougars were the only undefeated major college football team in the United States, and at the end of the football season they were ranked number one in the nation by both the coaches and sports writers. Numerous articles in national publications presented favorable views of the BYU players, their school, and their religion.
The Church’s worldwide nature was reflected in the increasingly international make-up of the General Authorities. Among those called to the First Quorum of the Seventy through President Spencer W. Kimball were five Europeans, Elders Charles A. Didier from Belgium, Jacob de Jager from the Netherlands, F. Enzio Busche from Germany, Derek A. Cuthbert from England, and Hans B. Ringger from Switzerland; the first of oriental ancestry, Elder Adney Y. Komatsu; the first from Asia, Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi; and two from South America, Elders Angel Abrea and Helio R. Camargo. These leaders brought to the presiding councils of the Church a firsthand awareness of international challenges and opportunities facing the Church in their areas.
Perhaps few events have had a greater impact on the worldwide spread of the gospel than did the 1978 revelation received through President Spencer W. Kimball extending the priesthood to worthy males of all races. For some time, the General Authorities had discussed this topic at length in their regular temple meetings. In addition, President Kimball went frequently to the temple, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when he could be there alone, to plead for guidance. “I wanted to be sure,” he explained.13
On 1 June 1978 President Kimball met with his counselors and the Twelve and again brought up the possibility of conferring the priesthood upon worthy brethren of all races. He expressed the hope that there might be a clear answer received one way or the other. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve recalled, “At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart. There was a marvelous outpouring of unity, oneness, and agreement in the council.”14
After a two-hour discussion, President Kimball asked the group to unite in formal prayer and modestly suggested that he act as voice. He recalled:
“I told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if He didn’t want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted.
“… But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it.”15
President Gordon B. Hinckley was at the historic meeting. He remembered: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. …
“Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. …
“… Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. …
“Tremendous, eternal consequences for millions over the earth are flowing from that manifestation. …
“… This has opened great areas of the world to the teaching of the everlasting gospel. This has made it possible that ‘every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.’
“We have cause to rejoice and to praise the God of our salvation that we have seen this glorious day.”16
Brother Anthony Obinna, a convert in Nigeria who had prayerfully waited for baptism for thirteen years, wrote to President Kimball after hearing about the revelation:
“We are happy for the many hours in the upper room of the temple you spent supplicating the Lord to bring us into the fold. We thank our Heavenly Father for hearing your prayers and ours and by revelation [confirming] the long promised day … to receive every blessing of the gospel.”17
Only five months after the revelation came, two experienced couples were sent to open missionary work in the black African nations of Nigeria and Ghana. “In black Africa … the revelation on the priesthood was, in effect, the restoration of the gospel for them. … Within one year there were more than 1,700 members in 35 branches in West Africa.”18
“After only nine and a half years of missionary work, Elder Neal A. Maxwell organized the Aba Nigeria Stake on May 15, 1988—the first stake in which all priesthood leaders were black—and he noted that this was ‘a historic day in the Church in this dispensation …’ (in ‘Nigerian Stake,’ Church News, 21 May 1988, p. 7).”19
When one considers how many people were “affected by this revelation—which includes millions on the earth and billions on the other side of the veil—we can see why President Kimball said that it brought ‘one of the greatest changes and blessings that has ever been known’ [ Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 451].”20
As the prophet of the Lord, Spencer W. Kimball increasingly felt compelled to raise a warning voice on a wide variety of subjects. In his first two general conferences as President of the Church, for example, he reaffirmed the Saints’ political responsibilities to elect wise leaders and to obey constitutional law. He challenged the Saints to clean up and repair their homes and farms and urged them to plant gardens, store food (in areas where it was legal), and avoid waste. He also reminded them of the virtues of work, industry, and thrift. He urged the Saints to keep the Sabbath holy and refrain from taking the name of the Lord in vain. He counseled against the use of playing cards. He also warned the Saints to have nothing to do with apostate groups.
Many of President Kimball’s teachings were centered in the family. He encouraged all young Latter-day Saints to marry and have children. He said, “We call upon all people to accept normal marriage as a basis for true happiness.” He lamented the growing number of divorces and believed that selfishness was a major cause of family break-ups. He regarded abortion as a related evil. “Certainly the terrible sin of premeditated abortion would be hard to justify. … We place it high on the list of sins against which we strongly warn the people.”
He reaffirmed that “the Church has consistently opposed the improper and harmful use of drugs or similar substances under circumstances which would result in addiction, physical or mental impairment or in lowering moral standards.”
President Kimball saw immoral or improper use of the body as a major threat to family happiness: “The human body is the sacred home of the spirit child of God, and unwarranted tampering with or defilement of this sacred tabernacle can bring only remorse and regret. We urge: stay clean, uncontaminated, undefiled.” The President also spoke out against the sin of homosexuality, “unisex” attempts to blur the distinction between masculine and feminine, and the practice of couples living together without marriage. Although President Kimball vigorously denounced such evils, he also offered hope to those who had become ensnared in them. This was the prime message of his widely read book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, published a few years earlier.
President Kimball particularly stressed the importance of the mother’s role: “‘Motherhood is near to Divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels. …’ [“Message of the First Presidency,” Deseret News Weekly Church Edition, Oct. 1942, p. 5.]”21 President Kimball emphasized the responsibility of parents to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to their children, including such virtues as honor, integrity, and honesty. “The home is the teaching situation. Every father should talk to his son, every mother to her daughter. Then it would leave them totally without excuse should they ignore the counsel they have received.”22
In the United States few family-related issues generated more discussions both in and out of the Church than did the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to provide that equal treatment under the law not be denied or abridged on account of gender. At first these provisions seemed wholly commendable, but further analysis raised some concerns. In 1976, though reaffirming the Church’s commitment to equal opportunities for women, the First Presidency opposed passage of the proposed amendment.
“It would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution. …
“Passage of ERA, some legal authorities contend, could nullify many accumulated benefits to women in present statutes.”23 The Presidency also feared that the amendment would undermine the unique status of women. Although this stand was approved by the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, a small but vocal minority saw it as a threat to women’s rights, refused to accept it, and even mounted disruptive demonstrations at general conferences. In various areas of the United States, groups of Latter-day Saints organized to work with legislators and in other ways mobilized public opinion to defeat the amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified by the 1981 deadline, but attention continued to be focused on the role of women. Articles in national periodicals increasingly lauded women who found fulfillment in careers outside the home, and described traditional homemaking as demeaning drudgery. Church leaders were aware of the pressures such attitudes placed on Latter-day Saint women. Therefore, in 1978 the Church inaugurated annual meetings for women, preceding the fall general conferences. Like the priesthood sessions for men, these gatherings in the Salt Lake Tabernacle were carried by closed circuit to hundreds of meetinghouses throughout the United States and in other countries. Speaking at the first of these sessions, President Spencer W. Kimball urged women to have programs of self-improvement and to reach for new levels of achievement and self-fulfillment. He said:
“We want our sisters to be scholars of the scriptures as well as our men. …
“… Let there be no question in your mind about your value as an individual. …
“Much is said about the drudgery and confinement of the woman’s role. This is not so. … There is divinity in each new life, challenge in raising each child. Marriage is a partnership. Please be a contributing and full partner.”24 Because many women would face the challenge of earning a living for themselves or for their families, Church leaders encouraged them to obtain education, while not losing sight of their primary role as mothers in the home.
More than twenty thousand Church members gathered for the dedication of the Relief Society Monument to Women at Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1978. Thirteen bronze statues stand in a two-acre park. “The statues represent various spheres of a woman’s circle of influence. …
“President Kimball commented upon the statuary garden and said, ‘As we walk through the garden, we are reminded of the great, powerful influence of women upon the world.’”25
Under President Spencer W. Kimball’s leadership, three new items were added to the scriptural canon—the first additions to the standard works in nearly three-quarters of a century.
Two of these additions, which became sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants, shed light on the subject of life after death. Concerning their importance, Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared: “Their contents have been known; their provisions have been in force; their principles have been widely taught. But now, at this hour, with their addition to the formal scriptures of the saints, they become a new commandment—they become a new divine pronouncement both to say and to do all that is required in the soul-expanding doctrine of salvation for the dead.”26 The third addition, Official Declaration 2, gives the text of the First Presidency letter announcing that the priesthood would now be available to all worthy males regardless of race.
These items explained in greater detail the doctrinal foundations of vicarious work for the dead. Hence their addition to the canon of scripture fittingly anticipated the era of unprecedented temple construction with resulting increase in temple activity, which would characterize the final years of President Kimball’s administration.
The issuing of new editions of the scriptures was the second major scripture-related development of President Kimball’s administration. In 1979 a new edition of the King James Bible was published. Although the biblical text itself was not changed, this new edition featured an improved footnote system, excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation, cross-references to related passages in the other standard works, more meaningful chapter headings, a 598-page Topical Guide and concordance, a 194-page dictionary section reflecting unique understanding available through latter-day revelation, and a gazetteer and maps. Two years later a new edition of the triple combination—the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—became a companion to the new edition of the Bible. It contained many of the same improvements.
These publications were the result of at least a decade of intense effort. A committee consisting of Elders Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, and Bruce R. McConkie gave constant direction to the project. Elders Marvin J. Ashton and Howard W. Hunter also served for a time. They were assisted by a task committee made up of three members of the BYU religion faculty, who in turn were assisted by hundreds of volunteers. Those who worked on this project testified that at key points the right person was available to provide expertise and enable the work to move forward. Elder Packer regarded these new editions of the scriptures with their improved study aids as extremely important:
“With the passing of years, these scriptures will produce successive generations of faithful Christians who know the Lord Jesus Christ and are disposed to obey His will.
“… They will develop a gospel scholarship beyond that which their forebears could achieve. …
“As the generations roll on, this will be regarded, in the perspective of history, as the crowning achievement in the administration of President Spencer W. Kimball. …
“These references from the four volumes of scripture constitute the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world.”28
With the continued expansion of the Church, President Kimball and other Church leaders increasingly took measures to meet the needs of the Saints worldwide.