Sunday, March 29, 2020

Race Whitney in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

            [Note: The below narrative is taken from a chapter in the author’s biography of Elder Orson F. Whitney, called “The Misadventures of Race Whitney” (page 257), that describes his harrowing experience as a newspaper reporter (working for the San Francisco Chronicle) when the great San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906. This was also about the time his father was called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Race Whitney was Orson’s oldest child, filled with promise and potential, but whose life was cut short because of drink—he died of alcoholism in his late twenties. Race, shortened from Horace, took after his father as a talented writer, journalist, and dramatist. Yet he became indifferent to the gospel teachings of his youth. As an older teenager, his father secured a position for him with a Salt Lake newspaper, and Race was one of a select company that travelled to St. George with President Lorenzo Snow in 1898, where President Snow received a revelation to reemphasize tithing to the Church. It would seem that after that experience, Race drifted from gospel teachings and standards, married a non-Latter-day Saint, and eventually drank himself to death. His account of being in the middle of the earthquake is well-written and thrilling. I have added some text from Race’s original correspondence with his father, that was published in the Deseret News, but that I deleted from the book since I thought it extraneous; this means the newspaper account found here is longer and has more earthquake details than the account in the book. Quotations are from Elder Whitney’s journal, mostly 1906, but I have deleted all the endnotes. From The Life of Orson F. Whitney: Historian, Poet, Apostle:]

            Good as he was at what he did—writer, reporter, dramatist—Race struggled to stay employed for very long. He also made a poor choice for a wife. It is with this decision that he again finds mention in Ort’s diary: “Went this evening with my son Race to see Miss Rosemary Gloez, his young lady. She is not a Mormon but is a very charming girl, aged 20, finely educated, a native of Boston. . . . They are a Hungarian family and nice people. Race and Rose are madly in love with each other. They want to marry. While I hate to see him wed outside the Church, I prefer this to no marriage, or a life on the stage, which he says is the alternative.”

About two months later, the day of the wedding arrived:

Saturday, March 28, 2020

President Hinckley Comments on Joseph Smith’s and the Church’s Critics

(Part nineteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            While the standard procedure for the First Presidency is to ignore the enemies and critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they do sometimes manifest an awareness of what the devil’s mortal emissaries are saying and doing. As a natural result, President Hinckley occasionally referenced their public and private efforts to disturb or distract, or to diminish or destroy faith in Jesus Christ and His modern prophets. As President Hinckley noted, many of them have targeted Joseph Smith and his First Vision—and (as he notes) while they have had some small success among the weak in testimony, the true and faithful have not faltered.
            The below statements and explanations given by President Hinckley over past decades are not exclusive to defending the First Vision only (his defense was much broader than that), but enough is mentioned on that subject to warrant inclusion here. Further, all can be benefited by his prophetic counsel on handling criticism of all kinds. His larger perspective placing the Prophet’s and the modern Church’s critics in their true context in relation to the kingdom of God and eternity is a valuable lesson to all. This prophet knew how to put the devil in his place:

            What about the critics of the Church who have been so vocal of late?
            We have them. We have always had them. They are not as vociferous as they once were. Noisy as they are, they are not as threatening. People ask whether we are fearful of research of our history. My reply to this is no, of course not, provided it is done with balance and integrity, as has been done by some scholars both in and out of the Church.
            However, we are under no obligation to spend tithing funds to provide facilities and resources to those who have demonstrated that it is their objective to attack the Church and undermine its mission. These funds are sacred. They have been consecrated by the faithful to advance the work, and that is the way they will be used.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

President Gordon B. Hinckley’s Teachings and Testimony of the First Vision

(Part eighteen of a series compiled by Dennis B.Horne)

            As far as I can discover, it seems to me that President Hinckley had more to say about Joseph Smith’s First Vision than any other modern prophet or apostle. As the below quotations demonstrate, he had studied the historical records, was informed on the scholarship (including the faulty arguments of the critics), had visited the sacred grove repeatedly, and had pondered and prayed and received a witness from the Holy Spirit, probably multiple witnesses, that what Joseph testified took place did. President Hinckley’s testimony of the First Vision must therefore be considered one of the greatest prophetic witnesses given since the event of the vision itself. The below selections are given in chronological order:

            Joseph Smith likewise was a figure of loneliness. I have a great love for the boy who came out of the woods, who after that experience could never be the same again, who was berated and persecuted and looked down upon. Can you sense the pathos in these words of the boy prophet?
            For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. [JS—H 1:25]

            When I was a boy, twelve years of age, my father took me to a meeting of the priesthood of the stake in which we lived. I sat on the back row while he, as president of the stake, sat on the stand. At the opening of that meeting, the first of its kind I had ever attended, three or four hundred men stood. They were men from varied backgrounds and many vocations, but each had in his heart the same conviction, out of which together they sang these great words:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Missionary Receives a Testimony of the First Vision

and a few other like experiences
(Part seventeen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            A few years ago, a returned missionary who served in one of the Mexican missions shared with me a classic experience that illustrates the “diligence” principle in the acquisition of faith and sacred knowledge. I had conducted the stake president’s interview before his mission and sent his papers to Church headquarters. I remember that interview with him. He was 6 foot 5 inches tall and 255 pounds. He was one of the first two young men recruited from my children’s high school to play football at Brigham Young University. He was a fine young man, clean-cut and worthy in every way. I remember being impressed with his potential. I could tell from the answers he gave to the questions I asked that he was honest, but there was one crack in his armor. I knew that his testimony was based on the faith of others rather than on his own witness. However, he related the following story to me during his release interview at the end of his mission.
            As his mission began, Elder Stone worked energetically with his companion. Frequently he was called upon to give the first lesson. In the lesson it was necessary for him to tell the investigators about the appearance of the Father and the Son to the boy Joseph in the Sacred Grove and then bear witness of its truthfulness. After bearing testimony a number of times, his conscience began to bother him. Although he believed the story, he did not know that it actually happened. He had not been there, nor had he received his own witness. How could he tell others that the First Vision really happened? As doubts began to multiply and replace his belief and as the pains of conscience increased, he told his companion that he could no longer be a missionary. He was going home. He could not serve as a witness to something he did not know. His companion responded, “Elder Stone, why don’t you follow the counsel given the investigators? You need to study and pray more diligently. Put Moroni’s promise to the test. Exercise your faith, and you will receive an answer. Stay with me for a few more weeks.”
Elder Stone agreed to stay and put Moroni’s promise to the test. A few weeks passed, the missionary worked harder, prayed more often, was more attentive in his reading, but no witness came. Finally, during an interview with the mission president, Elder Stone expressed his frustrations and indicated his desire to return home. He could not continue. A wise mission president counseled, “Elder, do not give up! You have a desire to believe. If you continue faithful in your calling for a few more weeks, the Lord will answer your prayers. I promise you!”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sister Ida Romney Obtains a Testimony of the First Vision

(Part sixteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            Two edifying accounts of the same story relating how Ida Romney, wife of President Marion G. Romney (a former counselor in the First Presidency), gained a witness of the reality of the First Vision. The first is from a Church News interview and the second is a more detailed account shared by her husband:

            After I wrote about Sister Camilla Eyring Kimball in early March 2019, I began thinking about other women of faith I’ve met during my career at the Church News. One of them was Ida Jensen Romney, wife of President Marion G. Romney, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency. (He had been a General Authority since 1941; he died in 1988.)
            I interviewed Sister Romney in their home in preparation for a feature article about her that was published Jan 16, 1974.
            She reviewed a time when she had to know for herself that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. As a member of a stake Sunday School board, she was assigned to teach the teachers in the stake. Although she didn’t have a college degree, she had a teaching certificate.
“One man was a graduate of the University of Idaho,” she said. “His wife (who was not a member of the Church) was also a college graduate. She attended the meetings with her husband.
“It never bothered me to have her in the class until one day our lesson was about Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I was preparing it, and I thought about this woman.
“‘She’s an educated woman,’ I thought to myself. ‘She’s going to think I’m crazy when I tell this story.’”

Sunday, March 15, 2020

President Russell M. Nelson, As the Senior Apostle, Exercises the Keys of the Priesthood

            We are now seeing a remarkable and historic example of the President of the Church and Prophet of God exercising the keys of the priesthood which only he holds in their fulness. The active word is “exercising” of the keys, or rights and powers of presidency. This is something that is not and cannot be done in other (man-made) churches, simply because they don’t have the keys or the priesthood, despite all the good they do. They don’t have a Prophet who can turn the authorized work of the Lord on and off as the Lord directs. But such sacred power is vested in the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
            Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:

            The way these things work is this:  There is priesthood on the one hand (which is God’s power and authority), and then there are keys on the other hand.  Keys are the right of presidency which authorize the use of the priesthood for a particular purpose.  Peter, James, and John brought the priesthood, which is power and authority, and then somebody else came and gave the keys which authorized the priesthood today to baptize, to perform eternal marriages, and to preach the gospel in all the world—a whole host of uses.  On the other hand, we can’t use the priesthood today to resurrect somebody, because the keys have not been given and we are not authorized to use God’s power for that purpose.  The way the keys operate is that they center in one man at a time and that man is the President of the Church.  They are conferred upon all the Twelve, but they lie dormant in them unless they become the senior apostle, because keys are the right of presidency and only one man presides over all others.  So you can never perform an act by the authority of the priesthood, alone.  You must have the authority of the priesthood and in addition you must have the authorization to use the priesthood for a purpose, which is keys.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

President Marion G. Romney Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision

(Part fifteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            President Romney is much less well-known in the Church today than he once was. He served as a counselor to both President’s Lee and Kimball, but the effects of age drastically diminished his capabilities the last years of his life. Elder Glen L. Rudd, one of his associates in the Church Welfare Program, wrote this of him: “Elder Romney was the most rigid and difficult man at first until I had been with him on two trips and realized that he had built a solid wall around himself and was hard to get to [know] but when he and I finally got on good terms, he turned out of be one of the easiest of all the Brethren for me to talk to. . . . Elder Romney was a remarkable man—much greater than most people thought. He and Elder Lee knew the Book of Mormon better than anyone. President Romney told me his door was always open and I could come at any time to visit him. Toward the last years of his life I would visit with him often and get him to tell me stories about his youth and the great leaders of the Church he knew.” I concur with the statement that President Romney was a greater spiritual giant in the Church than people of his or our generation generally realize:

            As he revealed himself after his resurrection to his followers in the Holy Land and to the Nephites in America, so he has revealed himself in our day. Indeed, this dispensation opened with a glorious vision in which the Prophet Joseph was visited by the Father and the Son. He heard their voices, for they both spoke to him. He was given a personal introduction to the resurrected Jesus by the Father himself. He beheld their glorious bodies and afterwards thus described them: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22.)

            I know that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know he saw God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, as he says he did. I was not there, but I have read his account many, many, many times. From his account I get in my mind a mental picture, but I did not get my knowledge that he had the vision from that source. I received it from the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and I have had those whisperings in my mind the same as Enos had when he said, “. . . the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10). (Conference Report, April 1953, 123-25.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Joseph Fielding McConkie Discusses the First Vision and Tolerance

Selections from the article, “The First Vision and Religious Tolerance
(Part fourteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            In revelation both ancient and modern, the Lord calls His words “sharper than a two-edged sword” (D&C 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; see also Hebrews 4:12). In modern vernacular, much of what He said would be politically incorrect. It could be considered judgmental, divisive, rigid, closed-minded, or just plain embarrassing. Yet in some instructional meetings, the teaching of ethics prevails over the teaching of doctrine, thus avoiding disagreements or the possibility of giving offense. Everyone is content to speak of God’s love; rarely is His wrath or displeasure mentioned. . . .
In this context the reader is invited to consider three touchy or sensitive texts that stand at the very heart of our theology. These texts have been chosen to honor Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the great martyrs of our faith. They did not seal their testimony with their blood in Carthage Jail so that we may teach ethics. They did not die hoping that future generations of Latter-day Saints would say to the world, “Look, we are just like you.”. . .
Each of the three texts comes from the revelations of the Restoration, and each is frequently considered offensive by those not of our faith. Even within the Church some are uncomfortable with these texts and feel a need to apologize for them. . . .
The second is part of the Prophet’s account of the First Vision, in which he asked the Lord which church he should join: “I was answered,” the Prophet said, “that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). . . .
            I would like to make some brief observations about the principle of tolerance. . . .

Friday, March 6, 2020

Elder Bruce R. McConkie Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision

(Part thirteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            As one of the greatest doctrinal and scriptural thinkers and teachers of the 20th century, Elder McConkie occasionally turned his attention to expounding matters related to the First Vision. Further, his testimony of that supernal theophany left no doubt that he knew with perfect certainty that it had occurred:

            By comparison to what then occurred, the command of the man Moriancumer unto the mountain Zerin, “Remove,” and it was removed; or the decree of the man Moses to the Red Sea, “Divide,” and the waters were divided, congealing on the right hand and on the left; or the command of the man Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still, and thou moon likewise,” and it was soby comparison to what happened in that grove of trees in western New York on that spring morning, such things as these fade into an obscure insignificance.
            As we approach with awe and reverence, in the spirit of worship and thanksgiving, the heaven-sent miracle of that bright morn, let us view first the setting in which the heavens would be rent and the miracle wrought.
            That year of grace, 1820, like the 1,400 years which preceded it, was one in which darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. It was a day of spiritual darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains. Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles, and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted. There were no visions, no revelations, no rending of the heavens; the Lord was not raining down righteousness upon a chosen people as he had done in days of old.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Orson F. Whitney’s Dream-Vision of the Savior

(Part twelve of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            March of 2020 will see the BYU Church History Symposium held at both Brigham Young University and at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, the main theme being the first vision received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the original “call for papers” the symposium committee listed “Latter-day Saint visionaries” other than Joseph Smith as a topic they desired to consider. I sent them a proposal for a paper on Orson F. Whitney’s dream-vision of Jesus, knowing it had a few aspects in common with the Prophet’s first vision. My proposal was not accepted for reasons unknown, but I have chosen to put the below information together nonetheless, as it may yet be of interest to some.
            One criticism leveled at Joseph Smith relates to the fact that he wrote or dictated several accounts of his first vision with additional details in each. Antagonistic unbelievers have erroneously interpreted the extra information to mean that Joseph made up new particulars as he went along, becoming more grandiose with each telling. This approach is not well considered and is a flimsy effort to reject the Prophet’s testimony and thereby relieve themselves of the burden of belief—with all the accountability and obligation that comes with it. Said President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I have read the words of critics, who from 1820 until now have tried to destroy the validity of that account. They have made much of the fact that there were several versions and that the [canonized] account as we now have it was not written until 1838. So what? I find security for my faith in the simplicity of his narrative, in its lack of argument, in its straightforward reasonableness, and in the fact that he sealed his testimony with his life’s blood.” I vastly prefer this astute prophet’s explanation to that of the skeptics; the fact is, he knew it was true by the power of the Spirit of God.
            President Hinckley could have said much the same things about Whitney’s vision. As it happens, one similarity Brother Orson has with Brother Joseph is that he also left multiple accounts, written at different points over his (much longer) life. Five written records exist (that I could locate), along with notes mentioning other unrecorded tellings. Another similarity is that slightly more detail emerges with each account, though the whole remains consistent, as does the lesson the vision taught to Whitney.