Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Strange Saga of a False Prophet: Charles W. Stayner, Orson F. Whitney, and George Q. Cannon

            We now look as far as history allows into the lives and doings of three largely forgotten men (and their associates), to tell a story of strange doctrine, misplaced loyalty, and exasperated concern.

            In 1881, Bishop Orson F. Whitney was called on a mission to England, where his assignment was to preach the gospel as a proselyting missionary for several months, and then move into the main mission office in Liverpool, where he would become the sub-editor of the Millennial Star. In this capacity he would take over for the departing sub-editor, Charles W. Stayner. Unbeknownst to most in his day and ours, Charles Stayner was a self-proclaimed prophet and seer, who evidently had a very magnetic personality, enabling him to persuade Bishop/Elder Whitney, and also many of the other missionaries serving there, that he was a prophet of God that would someday lead the Church.

            The below diary entries and historical sources unfold as much as I know of Stayner’s (and his disciples) beliefs and actions in life. Bishop Whitney was the most prominent among them and had the best contacts with the senior leadership of the Church. For those who have not read my biography of Elder Whitney, after thorough study of his diaries, I came to realize that because of a susceptibility to flattery, difficulty coping with serious depression, and a hungry mind that thirsted for heavenly knowledge almost to a fault, Whitney was particularly vulnerable to Stayner’s claims. Beyond that, I cannot say why one as gifted and brilliant as Bishop Whitney would be so gullible as to accept Stayner’s strange doctrines and revelations. Stayner was not the only man to have a beguiling effect on Whitney during his lifetime, but he did have the most worrisome influence for the longest time—almost two decades.

            I present this material now for several reasons. Some of it (the entries from President George Q. Cannon’s diaries) has just recently become available after languishing in the First Presidencies vault for a hundred plus years. Further, most of the entries quoted below from Whitney’s diary are already published in my biography of his extraordinary life and are therefore not really new. But the main reason to narrate this unusual chronicle is because it tells a story that is repeating itself today in tragic ways. False prophets have arisen among us and should be recognized for what they are.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ruminations on Doubt, Again

            It recently came to my attention that Terry Givens has revisited the subject of doubt in an interview from last January. I don’t follow him so I often learn about things he has said later. Such was the case with his “Letter to a Doubter” (that was so troubling) and an online interview, also troubling.

            From what I can see, in this interview he is trying to walk back (without it looking like it) some of the things he has said about doubt being good in the past that have disappointed knowledgeable and faithful members so much. Some years ago he appointed himself to minister to doubters, a highly dubious proposition (for reasons I will touch on below).

His academic standing has given him enough prominence and following/disciples so that he somehow finds himself speaking in various locations throughout the church on that subject and others. I think it likely that many bishops and stake presidents don’t know in advance what he is going to say to their audiences. I have learned that local priesthood leaders often don’t know when a guest speaker might use the opportunity for priest-craft (selling books, like the Tattooed Mormon), or to advance opinions and agendas that aren’t in harmony with church teachings.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Witness of the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

A selection from the 2017 book,
(From the chapter on Elder McConkie’s special witness of Jesus.)

On June 1, 1978, Elder McConkie enjoyed, with his Brethren of the First Presidency and ten of the Twelve, the most spiritual experience of his life, at least to that point.[1] It came in the House of the Lord at the time of the receipt of the revelation to President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy men regardless of race (see D&C Official Declaration 2). On June 28, 1978, Elder McConkie related the event to family members while vacationing in Nauvoo, and visiting in the home of a Kimball relative. A family member present that took notes from Bruce’s narration later described what he said:

            When we were all seated . . . Bruce began to tell us some of the events and details about this revelation. . . . One thing that he cautioned us not to do was to make it more than it was, even though I can’t imagine a greater thing than this in this life. . . . With President Kimball the preliminaries for this [revelation] started at least two years [before it was received]. There were many, many, discussions, returning to the subject from time to time in their quorum meetings in the temple. There was much fasting and there was much praying and many prayers were offered pleading to the Lord for a resolution of this problem. During the last three or four months there had been extended discussion during the quorum meetings regarding offering all of the blessings of the gospel to all the people of the earth.

            Now the various members of the quorum were asked to express themselves briefly and did. . . . The Prophet had told the quorum that this was a problem that he had been wrestling with for many hours and had spent many hours going to the upper rooms of the temple, wrestling [in prayer] with the Lord. He had not received a revelation but he wanted a revelation. . . .

            This particular Thursday (this was on June 1st) President Kimball asked the members of the Quorum [of the Twelve] to stay; he said that he had some things that he wanted to discuss further. All of the members of the quorum were there except [two].

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Lies, the Spirit of Discernment, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ: A Tribute on the Passing of Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone

            On the evening of May 11, I listened for the second time to a wonderful talk, “The Divine Gift of the Spirit,” given by Elder Featherstone at the BYU-Idaho devotional in 2013. I suppose it was one of his last major public addresses. The next morning, I learned that Elder Featherstone passed away at about the same time I had been listening. Knowing he was 87, I had wondered if his time was near.

            The stories told and expressions given in that sweet talk and others have given me much to think about, some of it in an unusual context. I occasionally keep an eye on topics that enemies of the church discuss (including their foolish charges against the church and the Brethren) and I have found that a couple of items they like to harp on have to do with lying and the spiritual gift of discernment. I have come to understand that they often have a warped sense of what lying is.

For example, one bitter apostate said that he was told by his priesthood leader to keep something very sacred confidential. This apostate then complained that he was counseled to come up with some innocent statement he could use, in talking to others, to avoid giving away the confidence. Now that he had become apostate, he was shouting about the confidence, and charging his priesthood leader with telling him to lie to others. Of course such was not the case, but he was desperately looking to find fault. (The irony is that he would break the confidence, or lie, after becoming apostate, while calling others liars; go figure.)

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Salt Lake Tribune indirectly describing the poor work of one of its own

            What irony—one (now former) Tribune employee complaining in the newspaper about what another Tribune employee, still on the job, does with the (alleged) news stories she writes.

The just-retired Mr. Rolly said: “And it just bugs me when I hear all these people talking about journalists who are trained to go out and find the truth and try and write objective stories and everything else as being fake news and then actually believing the crap that they see on social media where somebody just, you know, throws some idea out and pretends it’s a story. The next thing you know people are passing it around. And now we’re finding out that everybody was manipulated that way by people who were really trying to get phony ideas out there to meet a political agenda.” I don’t know what journalistic training Peggy may or may not have had, but she has ignored any she may have received. This description of throwing “some idea out and pretends it’s a story” is a perfect description of most of what she writes. Once in a while some hard news happens that she has to cover, and she gets it more or less (usually less) right, but more often, she is making up stories that fit her personal extreme social and political views on women’s and LGBT issues.

            Lest anyone accuse me of throwing out my own unsubstantiated charges, and calling that news, I offer the following headlines to many of her phony news stories; meaning she has thrown an idea out there to her friends and like-minded liberal/progressive/dissident types she keeps in her email address book and on speed dial:

            Headlines with commentary; and yes, I really did read most of these stories, unfortunately:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Salt Lake Tribune Troubles

            The Salt Lake Tribune has announced the layoffs of over a third of its newsroom; some 34 or so reporters, editors, and other staff. As the author of over a dozen blog pieces titled Salt Lake Tribune Tripe, I have, rightly, been especially critical of their poor and biased coverage of stories related to Mormonism.

            It is a tremendously difficult thing to lose your job; your means of supporting yourself and your family. I hope all of these former Tribune employees are able to find other work soon, or enjoy retirement (which some of them opted for). Most of these reporters were probably good at their jobs and reported news accurately and fairly in the varied fields of their expertise. I don’t think most reasonable people would want to do anything but wish them the best.

            But there is a disappointing side to these layoffs that hasn’t yet been mentioned in the preliminary news stories I have seen. Some of the Tribune’s employees, like Peggy Stack, that should have been let go, were not. This was the perfect time for Paul Huntsman to show some backbone and get rid of his media company’s anti-Mormon reporters—but he royally blew the opportunity. I only recognized one name of those now gone who contributed anti-Mormon stories to that paper; the others seem to have unfortunately survived.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

10 Questions with Dennis B. Horne

I recently had the privilege to interview Dennis B. Horne.

Dennis B. Horne, Photo provided by Dennis Horne.

Kurt Manwaring: Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in writing about religious topics?

I am an independent researcher and author. I grew up in Bountiful, Utah, and served a mission to Independence Missouri. I obtained my bachelors from Weber State University in Communications with an emphasis in broadcasting. I spent some ten years, off and on, working for two local Salt Lake City television stations before I went to work for the LDS Church twenty years ago. I have two wonderful wives (one of them deceased and on the other side of the veil for the last twelve years) and three daughters.

The spark of interest I felt for church history and doctrine when I attended Seminary grew into a roaring fire while I served a mission. That is where I first heard the other missionaries speak so respectfully and reverently of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s teachings and testimony. He had passed away just a few weeks before I graduated from high school, and I had not had the sense to pay attention to his final famous (April 1985) General Conference address at the time he delivered it. Following my mission, and on the side while pursuing my degree, I voraciously consumed Elder McConkie’s writings and those of the other great doctrinal thinkers and authorities of the Church. I even became a small-time collector of Mormon books when I could afford it. I began assembling my own files, filled with talks and articles related to church history and doctrine. These books and files became my main interest outside of gaining my secular education. Fortunately, I came under the influence of two knowledgeable and wise CES men, who gave me invaluable counsel in how to approach my gospel and historical studies: what to feast on; what to be wary of and why; what to study for proper perspective, and where to find the purest and sweetest doctrine.

These formative years in my twenties helped me avoid a serious crisis of faith, such as what has become something of a fad today. During the decade of the 1990s I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I might become knowledgeable enough to begin considering the possibility of doing some writing. I loved good Mormon books and soon developed the desire to contribute to the field myself. How little I knew how difficult that would be.