Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fwd: SWK biography

Sounds like an excellent biography. I got a chuckle about the sod near the=

Kimball's legacy

A biography by the LDS leader's son grants a rare peek behind the
scenes at church leaders and the revelation about blacks

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

On June 9, 1978, news of LDS President Spencer W. Kimball's revelation
ending the church's long-standing ban on blacks being ordained to its
priesthood stunned Mormons worldwide.
Immediately following the midmorning announcement from LDS Church
headquarters in Salt Lake City, the Mormon faithful launched an
enormous phone tree - sister calling sister, children calling parents,
friends calling friends. Within an hour, word had spread to nearly
every country where the church had members. People expressed joy,
shock, disbelief, amazement at the unexpected announcement.
But the truth is Spencer Kimball, leader of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been praying for guidance on the
issue for the 4 1/2 years since becoming the church's "prophet, seer
and revelator." The Mormon prophet talked to everyone he could think
of, studied the ban's origins, even kept a notebook full of
correspondence and clippings about it, although he rarely discussed it
in public speeches until external pressure had waned.
By March 1978, Kimball felt he had received a divine nod, but he
felt he still had to convince his colleagues in the Quorum of Twelve
Apostles so the decision could be unanimous.
Now a new book by his son, Edward Kimball, gives Mormons a look
behind the bureaucratic curtain that normally obscures such
give-and-take among LDS leaders. The book, Lengthen Your Stride: The
Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, draws on the president's 33
journals, thousands of letters and scores of interviews with leaders
and lay members who knew him.
The book is "a gem of Latter-day Saint biography," Richard
Cracroft writes in Brigham Young University Magazine. "The portrait of
Spencer W. Kimball that emerges in this superb biography neither omits
his weaknesses and problems nor exaggerates his strengths, which is
just as President Kimball wanted it."
The Mormon leader was at once compassionate and stern, bold yet
humble, confident in his office, yet insecure about his own skills.
Not long after being named president, an apostle found Kimball in
his office weeping. When asked what the matter was, Kimball replied:
"I am such a little man for such a big responsibility."
Edward Kimball's book has "no flinching, no sanitizing," writes
Julie A. Smith on the Mormon blog, http://
"Here is a prophet who occasionally skips church and becomes
depressed over his physical limitations. We see a man who is
overzealous in calling his inactive son to repentance and who later
wished that he had been gentler in The Miracle of Forgiveness," writes
Smith, of Austin, Texas. "We see the diminutive Kimball spending the
night in the posh home of a stake president where he has to jump into
the bed because it is so high off of the ground. And when he does, it
But, she writes, "We also see a Prophet of God."

Talking to God: For Mormons readers, the heart of this book will
be the section that outlines events leading up to the 1978 revelation.
For many, it will be their first look at the process, including a
reported collective mystical experience among the apostles meeting in
the temple.
"Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I
think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch,"
Spencer Kimball wrote to Edward Kimball several years before the 1978
experience. "I believe most revelations would come when a man is on
his tiptoes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows
he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems."
The chapters "will become the definitive description of the
revelation for the history of the [LDS] Church," Cracroft writes.
"They provide a careful composite of accounts by and interviews with
some of the General Authorities who were present."
The apostles were told not to describe details, but to let the
final statement stand for itself. Kimball asked Apostle Bruce R.
McConkie to document the event and McConkie's report was published in
a book about priesthood, but most resisted the urge to talk about it.
Only four LDS leaders who were there are still alive - current
president Gordon B. Hinckley, his counselor in the governing First
Presidency Thomas S. Monson, and Apostles Boyd K. Packer and L. Tom
Perry - and unless they've written something in diaries that will be
made public after their deaths, this is it.
In writing this book, Edward Kimball got a further glimpse into
the mind, decisions and relationships his father had developed over
his lifetime. Admiration for his father increased, but he didn't
always agree with the elder Kimball.
Edward Kimball wishes his father had accepted his brother
Spencer's distance from the church, rather than trying to pressure him
to come back.
And his father's book on repentance, The Miracle of Forgiveness,
could have been more empathetic. Literally thousands of interviews
with homosexuals in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo prompted Miracle.
It described homosexuality as "an ugly sin, a perversion, an
abomination," Edward Kimball writes. "He believed homosexual
orientation could be shifted by effort and faith and that, even in a
case where the inclination did not change, conduct could and should be
Spencer Kimball should have emphasized the positive, rather than
so much negative, Edward Kimball believes, because that was his
father's nature.
The Mormon prophet was always a warm man with the family, but
after he ascended to the presidency, people swarmed around, touching
and hugging him. In response, Kimball began to kiss people on the
cheek and hand - women and men. He came to see it as an appropriate
gesture from someone who was supposed to be representing Jesus Christ,
Edward Kimball says. "He started feeling like everyone's grandfather."

How to tell the story: With his nephew, Andrew, Edward Kimball
wrote an earlier biography of his dad but the narrative ended in 1977.
The two realized they would have to amend that book at the time of
Spencer Kimball's death, but they had no idea his tenure would become
one of the most active eras in 20th century Mormonism.
In addition to the revelation about blacks, there was the battle
over the Equal Rights Amendment, dramatic escalation in missionary
work, the beginning of satellite transmission from church
headquarters, growing concern about homosexuality, abortion and
pornography; the document forgeries of Mark Hofmann, the reportedly
phony Howard Hughes will and the church's opposition to the MX missile
being built in Utah.
So instead of just making additions to the first biography,
Edward Kimball has spent the past decade producing a whole new volume.
But even that was too long. So LDS publisher Deseret Book took an
unusual step - putting all the material that wouldn't fit on a CD
inside the book's back cover. It features several other biographies of
Spencer Kimball and his wife, Camilla, including the 1977 volume, many
scholarly articles, photographs and audio clips. It also has the full
text of the book as well as the earlier, longer draft with 3,600
footnotes from both versions. Most of the differences between the two
versions were simple space savers, but some reflected differing
"The publisher and biographer did not agree on the
interpretations or weight of importance given to a number of events,
or the choices of characterization of some of the people," the
publisher wrote in its preface. "The resulting book reflects a
compromise between the two points of view."
Edward Kimball offers a couple of examples.
When senior apostle Ezra Taft Benson endorsed the American Party
in 1974, Spencer Kimball told him to stop making divisive political
statements. But Benson continued to express his right-wing views.
"That's what they wanted to throw out," Edward Kimball says. "I
was glad to add more to explain his motivation, but I wasn't going to
take it out."
After LDS Apostle McConkie gave a speech at BYU titled "The 7
Deadly Heresies," Spencer Kimball told him to make clear in the
published version that this wasn't church doctrine, just McConkie
speaking for himself. Deseret Book didn't want that in the biography,
Another story involves Packer reporting that he had gone to an
LDS building dedication and saw people laying sod on the Sabbath, to
which Kimball retorted: "Maybe next time you shouldn't go so early."
The publisher approved the anecdote but wanted Packer not to be identif=
"The policy seems to be not to publish descriptions where [Mormon
leaders] are at odds with one another or discreditable, as they
perceived it. They also don't like to name names," Edward Kimball
says. "I made clear that somewhere we have to draw the line and they
Contact Peggy Fletcher Stack at or 801-257-8725.
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