Friday, August 27, 2010

French missionary apostacy of 1958

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Excerpts of "Elder Tucker's Drift: The Trial of the French Mission," by Kahlile Mehr,  This is a condensed version of "The Trial of the French Mission" published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sep 1, 1988.
...Early in 1958, Tucker became the second counselor in the French Mission presidency, and, in the absence of a first counselor, the only assistant to Mission President Milton Christensen.

...Tucker harbored many unresolved questions about the Church. A convert to Mormonism in California at age 15, he had immersed himself in a study of its history and doctrine. Intrigued by the former practice of polygamy and the many "mysteries" mentioned but not clearly defined in the statements of early Church authorities, he began to develop his own divergent conclusions

...In France he shared his conclusions with others. Conducting a mission within a mission, he sifted through the elders and sisters looking for his own harvest of receptive minds. Many began to credit his teachings above those of Church authorities, and to the many young missionaries who were attracted to him as a paragon of proselytizing, he opened a Pandora's box of doubt.

... The matter culminated in September 1958, when all French missionaries crossed the channel to attend the dedication of the London Temple. Alerted Church authorities interviewed the entire contingent to determine their allegiance. Many repented, but nine were excommunicated after a trial that was without precedent in the history of LDS missionary work.

... while en route to France, Tucker had obtained an interview with Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, known as a doctrinal authority. Tucker had not been satisfied with the interview.

... he was transferred to Marseille on the southern coast of France with David Shore as a companion. In Shore he found a kindred spirit. These two like-minded elders intensively prayed, fasted, studied, and in other ways actively sought spiritual growth. Their devotion and energy was unusual in the French mission in 1957 and attracted attention mission-wide.

... [Mission] Morale was low. ... When word spread that missionaries in Marseille were fasting, praying, prophesying, and baptizing, the aspirations of others began to revive.

... Attendance at Church meetings rose dramatically, and more baptisms were registered in Marseille than elsewhere in the mission.

... he had concluded that the Church had erred in abolishing polygamy. At some point he developed aberrant views regarding priesthood authority, the guidance of the spirit, the temple garment, and the Word of Wisdom.

... Others spoke of him as "setting the French mission on fire,"

... Mission President Milton Christensen called him to serve as his second counselor. The president commented in the mission journal, 6 February 1958, "The Lord truly blessed me in the selection of This Elder, who is very strong in the Gospel ."

... all four continuously traveled the mission publicly proclaiming the gospel but privately propounding their own special doctrine. They would team up with individual missionaries during the day and in the evening conduct study and testimony sessions. Usually, they would test a missionary's receptiveness by stating an apostate principle. What came next would depend upon how the elder reacted.

... While Tucker taught the primacy of seeking the Spirit for guidance in conducting missionary work, he privately went out of bounds, encouraging the elders to discount the current Church leaders' teachings in favor of doctrines culled from sources such as the Journal of Discourses. ... He decried the unquestioning acceptance of tradition

.. Elder Tucker held great sway over the entire Paris corps of elders as well as many others throughout the mission. One estimate is that a third of the 130 missionaries in the French Mission eventually came to be in sympathy with Tucker. According to another source about thirty of the missionaries could have been considered firm believers. Under his influence, missionaries began to study rather than proselytize, and some began to wear only the "old style" temple garments.

... Johnson, an ardent admirer of Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote to him concerning the incident. Word eventually got back to President Christensen that something was amiss in Marseille. In April 1958, he sent Tucker to investigate. Tucker made several visits in April and May, each time assuring the president that the situation was in hand

... The serious-minded new Paris recruit, Ron Jarvis, requested more information directly from Ervil LeBaron in Mexico

.... on 14 August, they divulged their feelings to President Christensen [who] tried to talk the problem through with them. ...Tucker's cover began to unravel, and President Christensen soon realized this was something bigger than he could handle alone. On 19 August, a Tuesday, he telephoned the First Presidency in Salt Lake. The following Saturday, Apostle Hugh B. Brown arrived in Paris.

--Apostle Brown concluded the meeting at 8:00 P.M. with a discourse on the powers of the adversary and the future of the French Mission. He described what had happened as the worst missionary apostasy in the history of the Church and further confided that they had discussed the possibility of closing the mission but decided the temple dedication would provide the opportunity to cleanse the mission.

... Left by the Church to their own devices to get home, they pooled their money to obtain ship's passage.

... The bishop in his [Harvey's] ward, mortified by the excommunication, had announced to the congregation that Harvey would never be rebaptized as long as he was bishop. ...  Harvey's father had suffered a heart attack.

... a little over a year after the trial, President Moyle visited the mission. Anticipating the new year, he asked the mission leaders what baptismal goal they ought to set for themselves. They consulted and agreed on 400, four times the average baptismal rate of the ten years previous. ...  By 4 July 1960, 404 new converts had been baptized, and by the end of 1960 the baptismal total stood at 942. It was an exceptional year in which the mission broke from the statistical mire of its past and was regenerated with an influx of new members.

... Of the seven, four elders and three sisters, who never rejoined the Church, all lived in Mexico for some time and supported the LeBaron movement.

... The trial for unnumbered others also drawn into the circle of Tucker's beliefs was conducted less publicly. The verdicts rendered remain the private legacies of each individual who followed Tucker to the edge of their ken and to whatever lay beyond.

The complete patheos article can be read here.

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