Juvenile Instructor » Repudiating the Pearl of Great Price?: More on Reactions to the 1978 Revelation
 


Repudiating the Pearl of Great Price?: More on Reactions to the 1978 Revelation

By: Christopher - June 17, 2014

Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on Latter-day Saints’ reaction to the announcement of the 1978 revelation on the race-based temple and priesthood ban. The post elicited a lot of excellent responses, including several from Latter-day Saints who shared their own memories and recollections of LDS responses in the wake of the revelation. Among the most intriguing comments, though, came from commenter Ben S., who offered an anecdote he once heard about “several hundred LDS [who] signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn’t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.”

Naturally intrigued (and a bit horrified, to be honest), I went exploring and found a reference to just such an advertisement in the July 23, 1978 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune. Thanks to the research assistance of Ardis Smith, I was able to track down a copy of the issue and ad in question (click here for PDF), which was provocatively headlined “LDS Soon to Repudiate a Portion of Their Pearl of Great Price?”

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As the leading question rhetorically posed in the title suggests, the advertisement portrayed the decision to terminate the ban as a rejection of one of Mormonism’s four canonical books of scripture. “It appears,” the ad begins, “that a portion of The Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the Mormon Church, is about to be repudiated or ‘dissolved.'” Basing that charge on a quote from former church president David O. McKay in which he claimed to “know of no scriptural basis for denying the priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26),” the advertisement editorialized that “this seems to be the unanimous view of former L.D.S. Church Presidents” and claimed that unidentified “enemies of Mormonism have been concentrating upon efforts to discredit the book and, inevitably, the Prophet Joseph Smith.” The implications for Mormons were dire, it continued: “Will Latter-day Saints remain true to their former revelations, or will they yield to the pressures of this crucial day? … Have [Mormonism’s enemies] succeeded?[1] And then, answering their own question: “We are sad and troubled to observe how the Church collectively has reacted to the pressures. How will individual members respond?”

Over the course of the remaining 53 paragraphs, the author of the ad proceeded to lay out a brief history of the priesthood ban, refute attempts by LDS leaders in the previous month and a half since the revelation had been announced to portray “earlier Church leaders” as having known “that eventually Negroes would receive all the blessings of the Gospel” (relying chiefly upon comments from Brigham Young and “the Author of Mormon Doctrine”)[2],  urge Latter-day Saints to “be Faithful to Revelations,” and warn not only that the “curse [was] to remain” in effect, but that the Church’s recent actions threatened to invalidate its priesthood and cause the “Lord [to] Send Delusion.”

The basic argument presented relied on a simplified formula that, in theory, likely rang true to many active Mormons: “Principles and Ordinances” in the Lord’s true church did not change and the words of God’s “Oracles [were] Not to Conflict.” The ends to which that formula were used, though, almost certainly did not. Drawing again on the words of earlier LDS prophets and Mormon scripture, the advertisement concluded by claiming that the Lord had promised, if and when the Church became “polluted,” to preserve a “Remnant” that would “Remain True”:

These faithful few, under God’s direction, shall redeem Zion, build up the kingdom upon the earth and usher in the Millennial reign of Christ. As we said in the beginning, it appears by the June 9th action of the L.D.S. Church, that The Pearl of Great Price, or a portion of it, it about to be repudiated, as are the Church’s founding prophets whose words are in harmony with that volume of scripture. We repeat the question:

Will Latter-day Saints remain true to their former revelations, or will they yield to the pressures of this crucial day?

Where do you stand?[3]

The whole thing left me with way too many questions. The concerns expressed — that the June 1978 revelation contradicted tradition, accepted interpretation of select scriptural verses, and the words of past prophets — struck me as entirely plausible (if morally indefensible) positions for some Latter-day Saints to hold in the wake of such a largely unexpected and paradigm-changing announcement. The conclusions reached struck me as significantly less so. Did a group of largely anonymous active Mormons come to the conclusion in the month and a half since the public announcement of the revelatory policy change that they were the divinely-chosen remnant to preserve the existence and integrity of God’s priesthood? Had they already organized themselves into a group called “Concerned Latter-day Saints,” as the name and address at the bottom of the ad suggested?
Joseph Jensen_1978

It seemed a stretch. In fact, the argument, its tone, and the conclusions reached sounded downright Fundamentalist to me — a suspicion that was confirmed both by subsequent research and by Armand Mauss, whose chapter in the 1984 volume he and Lester Bush co-edited, Neither Black nor White, cited the article as evidence that “polygamist fundamentalists offered the only apparent organized opposition to the new priesthood policy.” The advertisement, then, was apparently not evidence of mainstream Mormon reactions to the 1978 revelation, but rather something else entirely — not just a fascinating insight into how some fundamentalist Mormons responded to ongoing developments in the LDS Church, but also evidence of their ongoing efforts to take advantage of those developments and proselytize LDS Church members.

My initial question mostly answered, I was left wanting more. Who was Joseph Jensen? What branch of Mormon Fundamentalists did he represent? A bit more searching turned up an additional reference to Joseph Jensen in the secondary literature, this time from Carmon Hardy’s 2011 Dialogue article on “The Persistence of Mormon Plural Marriage.” Hardy cited a “fundamentalist advertisement” authored by “Joseph L. Jensen, Chairman” of “Star of Truth Publishing” in the March 30, 1980 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “Shall We Excommunicate Joseph Smith?” Thanks again to Ardis Smith, I was able to obtain a scan of that article (PDF here). That advertisement, like the one before it, lamented that “the L.D.S. Church is being made acceptable to the world,” by celebrating the words of the present-day prophet to the exclusion and supposed denial of past prophets (“When a prophet dies, his words die with him, or are fair game for change and interpretation, unless his words happen to comply with those of the next living prophet,” it mocked). The unspoken context was clearly post June 8, 1978 developments, though the ad does not mention the revelation or the ordination of black men to the priesthood explicitly. The writing style, the provocative headline, and the venue made it clear that “Joseph L. Jensen,” the chairman of “Star of Truth Publishing” was the same as the “Joseph Jensen” who had earlier written on behalf of “Concerned Latter-day Saints.”

Armed now with a middle initial, an additional publication under his name, and the name of a publishing company, I quickly discovered that the publishing company was affiliated with the Apostolic United Brethren, the second largest Mormon polygamist group. I also discovered a 2005 article (again, in the Salt Lake Tribune — man, someone should really step in and save that paper!) reporting on the appointment of one “J. Lamoine Jenson” as the newest leader of the sect. Jenson, I learned, had since 1969 served on the AUB’s presiding council and is listed as the “Registered Agent” for “Star of Truth Publishing” to this day. My immediate suspicion that “J. Lamoine Jenson” was “Joseph L. Jensen” was confirmed in the penultimate paragraph:

Jenson’s name appeared at the bottom of a paid advertisement published in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1980 by Fundamentalist Mormons critical of LDS Church leaders for dropping “the will or word of God” as given by past prophets to become “acceptable to the world.” While not mentioned in the nearly half-page ad, fundamentalists hold abandonment of polygamy and the 1978 acceptance of blacks into the LDS Church priesthood as errors by the mainstream Mormon church.

Almost entirely satisfied, I was left with one last nagging question. Why did “J. Lamoine Jenson” publish under the name “Joseph (L.) Jensen” (note not only the change from use of first name and middle initial to first initial and middle name but also the change in spelling of the last name from Jensen to Jenson). A bit more digging turned up an answer to that question. A July 28, 1978 AP wire report on “Fundamentalist LDS church members [who] object to new black priesthood doctrine” referred to Jensen’s Salt Lake Tribune advertisement five days earlier (noting, among other things, that it cost $2,676). It also contained the following intriguing detail:

Chairman of the group sponsoring the ad, identified as Joseph Jensen, said that is his real name but “not one I am known by.” He asked not to be further identified because threats had been made against his life.

So that explained the alternate spelling of his last name and use of his first instead of middle name. But it also opened up an entire other can of worms — threats made on his life? By whom? And that’s not all. The report continued:

He said the group includes more than 2,000 people, many of whom have been excommunicated from the church for their views. Asked if he were excommunicated, Jensen declined a direct answer, but said, “I was born LDS, raised LDS and have taught in every organization in the church. I’m fully converted to Mormonism.” He said reaction to the ad has been about 60 percent unfavorable. He said he had received about 100 letters addressed to a post office box given in the ad. He said those who support the ad feel the church is about to repudiate works now accepted as scripture. He said if founder Joseph Smith were a Mormon today, he’d be excommunicated.[4]

There’s a lot to unpack there, from Jensen’s careful choice of words in responding to the query about his own membership in the LDS Church to his report on the reaction his ad had received. We might wonder about the accuracy of the statistics he provided, but it is nevertheless an intriguing glimpse into what I initially set out to discover — the response of active Latter-day Saints to the 1978 revelation. Some, though likely not very many, were not only reticent to join their coreligionists in “hugging and dancing and crying with happiness,” but were troubled by the revelation and the challenges they supposed it posed to prophetic and scriptural authority. Fundamentalist Mormons, it appears, were there to take advantage of those concerns and proselytize their mainstream Mormon cousins.

________________________

[1] Emphasis in original.

[2] Curiously, the ad does not mention Bruce R. McConkie by name. The likely reason why will become clear in subsequent paragraphs.

[3] Emphasis in original.

[4] Other potentially relevant and interesting excerpts from the summary of the interview with Jensen/Jenson include his claim that “‘only one or two or three’ letters he has received in response to the ad have racist overtones” and his firm determination that “this is is no way whatsoever against the Negro. I know some I’d just as soon be pals with as any white man.” Jensen/Jenson further clarified that “sponsors of the ad believe blacks were to receive it only in the hereafter.” The report also quotes LDS Church spokesman Jerry Cahill as saying, in response to the reporter’s question “if a person who held views expressed in [the ad] would be excommunicated,” that “‘It’s a possibility. The views certainly are not in harmony with those of church authorities.'”



21 Comments

  1. Very interesting.

    Didn’t this all happen about same time as Ervil LeBaron had AUB’s leader Rulon Allred killed? Can the threaths against Jenson’s life has something to do with that? Although that has really nothing to do with the 1978 revelation.

    Comment by Niklas — June 17, 2014 @ 6:04 am

  2. Wow! You are a super sleuth. I hereby resign that title.

    Comment by Amanda HK — June 17, 2014 @ 8:22 am

  3. Great work, Christopher.

    Comment by JJohnson — June 17, 2014 @ 8:26 am

  4. Great fun, Christopher.

    Comment by wvs — June 17, 2014 @ 8:51 am

  5. I’m old enough to remember the ad. Thanks for these interesting details as to its background.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 17, 2014 @ 9:32 am

  6. Thanks, everyone. This was a fun one to do a bit of digging into.

    Niklas, that’s actually a great insight – thanks! I had assumed the claimed death threats were somehow connected to Jenson’s public response to the revelation, but they might very well have had nothing to do with it at all and might instead be connected to the previous year’s murder and lingering tensions between the AUB and LeBaron group (and the fact that Ervil LeBaron was still on the loose).

    Comment by Christopher — June 17, 2014 @ 9:54 am

  7. Great work, Christopher. For what it may be worth, Leonard Arrington mentions the ad in his diary, entry dated July 28, 1978, as follows:

    “Lowell [Durham, manager, Deseret Book] also passed on some information to me about that full-page ad that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. We have all assumed that it was put in the paper by one of the Fundamentalist groups, and Lowell says that probably is correct. He said that Wendell Ashton [LDS Church Public Relations] went to Jack Gallivan [publisher, Salt Lake Tribune] and asked him why he would be willing to run such an unfriendly anti-Mormon ad. Jack made no particular response, and Wendell said if an anti-Catholic group were to bring in an ad of that nature directed against the Pope and Catholic Church, would they run it? Jack Gallivan’s feeble reply was, “Well, no one would bring in such an ad.” Lowell says that the ad cost $3,000, that two “little old women” brought the ad in and paid for it with old crumbly $50 bills, the entire $3,000 was paid for with $50 bills. Obviously out of somebody’s sock. Bound to be one of the Fundamentalist groups.

    “Basically, the ad takes the attitude that once God has revealed something to some prophet that is the last word on the subject. The prophet revealed certain things to the Saints in the early 1830s. And then when he announced some new revelations in 1835 providing for the ordaining of High Priests David Whitmer thought this went against the earlier revelations and so he left the Church. In a similar manner, at each stage of our history there have been a few people who leave the Church when a new revelation is announced that may change something that was previously revealed, and they quote scriptures which purport to say that God’s word is “final” and unchangeable and not to be altered. This is the attitude of the Fundamentalists on polygamy, this was the attitude of some people when the Assistants to the Twelve were made Seventies and the Seventies were ordained High Priests. This misinterprets the whole meaning of revelation. Revelation is the voice of the Lord directly or through his servants to the Saints at any specific place and time. And for reasons which are sufficient unto Himself the Lord may issue new instructions or give new counsel or alter any organizational pattern in the Church. To take the attitude of the Fundamentalists is to say that the Lord stopped revealing Himself to the world in 1842 when he revealed the principle of plural marriage.

    “We have always believed and the Lord has always stated that continuous revelation is a part of the doctrine of the Church, and continuous revelation means that the Lord reveals new doctrines, new procedures, and gives new counsel on a regular basis and he does this through his prophet.”

    Comment by Gary Bergera — June 17, 2014 @ 10:06 am

  8. Fantastic, Gary. Thank you for adding that insight and sharing the excerpt from Arrington’s journal!

    Comment by Christopher — June 17, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  9. Fascinating stuff, Chris. And thanks for the Arrington excerpt, Gary.

    Comment by David G. — June 17, 2014 @ 10:40 am

  10. Christopher, I kid you not, I was just re-reading your earlier post and wondering about this ad yesterday evening. Thanks for tracking it down and writing it up (and many thanks to Ardis for the help she gave you)!

    Comment by Quincy D. Newell — June 17, 2014 @ 11:26 am

  11. Fantastic, thanks so much for following up on this! Thanks also to Gary for the lengthy Arrington thoughts.

    I think that institutionally, we don’t do a good job recognizing the inherent tension between established cannon, binding interpretation or that cannon, and new revelation.
    There is both change and stability. I suspect that much of our harmonistic rhetoric flows from an overreaction against perceptions, real or imagined, of societal changes(e.g. “the world changes, but the Lord’s church does not”) as well as a particular view of revelation and scripture. I think our rhetoric has overreached, and creates serious misunderstandings and problems.

    That harmonistic view is strongly represented by (surprise!) Joseph Fielding Smith and BRM.

    It is true that a divine revelation admits of no change, but it may admit of additional knowledge or development and information. It may, in fact, for cause, be revoked. The Lord does not always reveal the fulness of a principle at first and he certainly has the right to reserve to himself other and greater knowledge. His word to man comes in steps, peacemeal, as his servants are prepared to receive it. But there will be no conflict between the part first revealed, and the latter part revealed, they will harmonize.

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Man: His Origin and Destiny, 470. My emphasis.

    Every truth, in every field, in all the earth, and in all eternity, is in complete and total harmony with every other truth. Truth is always in harmony with itself. The word of the Lord is truth, and no scripture ever contradicts another, nor is any inspired statement of any person out of harmony with an inspired statement of any other person. Paul and James did not have differing views on faith and works, and everything that Alma said about the Resurrection accords with section 76 in the Doctrine and Covenants. When we find seeming conflicts, it means we have not as yet caught the full vision of whatever points are involved. The Lord expects us to seek for harmony and agreement in the scriptures and among the Brethren rather than for seeming divergences of views. Those who have faith and understanding always seek to harmonize into one perfect whole all the statements of the scriptures and all the pronouncements of the Brethren. The unfortunate complex in some quarters to pounce upon this bit of information or that[,] and conclude that it is at variance with what someone else has said[,] is not of God. Over the years I have received thousands of letters saying, “So-and-So said one thing, but Someone-Else said the reverse—who is right?” My experience is that in most instances—nay, in almost all instances—the seeming divergencies can be harmonized, and when they cannot be it is of no moment anyway. The Spirit of the Lord leads to harmony and unity and agreement and oneness. The spirit of the evil champions division and debate and contention and disunity (3 Ne. 11:29).

    “Guidelines to Gospel Study” in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 230-231.

    These views almost seem to deny the concept of line-upon-line.

    Comment by Ben S — June 17, 2014 @ 11:53 am

  12. Also, these objections smack of certain Protestant tendencies which recognize no authoritative interpreter between cannon and laypeople. If scripture says it, you must do it/believe it. If you stop, you’re rejecting the scriptures. Very rigid, black/white mindset. I’ve harped on this before, of course.
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2014/03/faith-revelation-and-jewish-parallels/

    Comment by Ben S — June 17, 2014 @ 11:59 am

  13. Thanks for this info, Chris and Gary. I recall Ben S. mentioning this (and heard a similar mention from an Institute teacher back in the late 1990s), good to see the actual text.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — June 17, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  14. Thanks, David, and Bro. Jones.

    I’m glad I could time this so well for you, Quincy. :)

    I just bookmarked that post, Ben, and will return to it when I have the time. And thanks again for initiating this whole post.

    Comment by Christopher — June 17, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

  15. Great stuff, Christopher.

    Comment by Ben P — June 17, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

  16. Ben S. – Sounds like a little bit of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is needed. #notallprotestantsarethesame #MormonismsproblemsbeganwhenJosephlefttheMethodists

    Comment by Amanda HK — June 17, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

  17. Great research, Christopher. This story reminds me of something I read recently in David Holland’s book, Sacred Borders:

    “An awareness of revelation’s limitations and a culture of unwavering obedience to prophetic authority thus coexisted in early Mormonism in ways that put it partly in sympathy and partly at odds with both the orthodox commitment to ahistorical scriptural adherence and the liberal fixation on change over time. This intense convergence of two countervailing ideas gave Mormonism a distinctive shape, and even Mormons themselves had difficulty wrapping their minds and hearts around the resulting stresses…. Over the course of Mormon history, on issues from polygamy to racial equality, such commands and revocations drove a wedge between an evolving church and those who held a fast and fundamentalist commitment to the earlier revelations. Group after group of disaffected adherents either proved indifferent to extant commands or resistant to change. Neither rigidity nor irresolution could survive a God who spoke both authoritatively and frequently. Early Mormons discovered, often the hard way, that to make a ‘contradiction in terms’ like an open canon work—without compromising either the openness or the canonicity—would require souls both strong and limber.” (pp. 156-157)

    Comment by Liz M. — June 17, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

  18. Very nice detective work.

    You might want to consider adding a link to this post in the older post, in case someone finds that and doesn’t see this follow-up.

    One of the articles you share in the course of the story mentions the name of Jensen/Jenson’s father. A quick look at the family in FamilySearch Family Tree turns up some additional details.

    1. The name is Jenson. Three of his grandparents or their families were from Malmöhus (now Skåne), Sweden. Not just Sweden, but Malmöhus. Could that indicate some clannishness, which might contribute toward fundamentalism?

    2. His maternal grandmother was not Swedish-American; she was a Jessop.

    3. Besides Joseph’s middle name of Lamoine, the extended family also used names like Ervin and Delore and Lavere and Lavoid and Cleo and Theil and MarJean. A bit ironic that on paper the family looks like it could be African-American.

    Comment by Amy T — June 17, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

  19. Chris: amazing work. Well done, super sleuth.
    Ardis: thanks for makin this post possible.
    Gary: thanks for the additional insight!

    Comment by J Stuart — June 17, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

  20. “they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet”

    Is this what you are referring to in your title “Moron Reactions to the 1978 Revelation”?

    Comment by larryco_ — June 18, 2014 @ 4:21 am

  21. Great post, Christopher.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 18, 2014 @ 10:34 pm