Bruce R. McConkie and a Hofmann forgery

We are the weak and the simple and the unlearned as far as the intellectual giants of the world are concerned, but our teaching is not in the intellectual field. It is pleasing if we have some intellectual attainments. But basically and fundamentally, as teachers we are dealing with the things of the Spirit.

At this last general conference, in April, I was doing what we are pretty much required to do now. I was reading the expressions that I was making. And then at the end I said a few sentences extemporaneously. As I said them I had in mind the document that had recently come to light purporting to be an account of a prophetic utterance or a blessing given by the Prophet Joseph to one of his sons. And so I felt impressed, after my formal remarks were concluded, to bear a witness of what was involved in succession in the presidency. And I named all of the Presidents from Joseph Smith to Spencer W. Kimball and said that down that line the power and authority and keys of the kingdom had come. Then I said something that highly offended all the intellectuals. I said, “What I am saying is what the Lord would say if he were here.” (See Conference Report, Apr. 1981, p. 104.) Now the only way you can say a thing like that is to be guided and prompted by the power of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is a revelator and places in your mind the thoughts that the Lord wants expressed.

Well, our intellectual friends reading that in the account, went into a great explosive tizzy, whatever that is. And in decrying the stand I had taken, one of the chief among them said, “Well, what can you expect when they have incompetents like Bruce R. McConkie running loose?” (see Fred Esplin, “The Saints Go Marching On: Learning to Live with Success,” Utah Holiday, vol. 10, no. 9, June 1981, p. 47). I read about it in one of the semi-anti-Mormon publications. And when I read it, it gave me a great feeling of personal satisfaction. I thought, “This is marvelous. It is just as important to know who your enemies are as your friends.” And of course, the intellectuals in the world view our teachings as foolishness, or as Paul calls it, “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

– Bruce R. McConkie, “The Foolishness of Teaching,” evening with a General Authority, September 1981.

Elder McConkie made the above remarks in the context of the Mark Hofmann forgeries, which at the time were undetected. He was referring specifically to the fraudulent Joseph Smith III blessing. At about the same time, Gordon B. Hinckley would also discuss this forged document.

It is interestingly that concerns raised by the forgery about the legitimacy of the succession of LDS leaders was not answered by the Lord through an immediate revelation of the forgery. That would come through time. Those who desired comfort or a sustaining witness, however, were provided an unprepared and unscripted declaration from a spiritual witness. Those with no faith in spiritual things were unimpressed, even outraged. Those more schooled in spiritual things and humble enough to receive what the Lord offered would have received comfort and strength.

This is often how such things go. “To them that have shall be given, and from them who have not shall be taken away even that which they have.”

Because an apostle went beyond information that was available in a secular sense, he was criticized by those who considered themselves wiser and better informed. Yet, history has been kinder to Elder McConkie’s declaration than to his critics.

Elder McConkie was right on two other fronts, as well:

  1. there is such a thing as “semi-anti-Mormons,” among those who purport to be scholarly, neutral, and “balanced.”
  2. it is indeed just as important–or perhaps even more so–to know our enemies. Far better that they be honest and overt, than skulking hypocritically in the shadows, undercutting the prophets while protesting their allegiance.
It must be wearying for them. It certainly is for those of us who must watch it.