This Sunday, adult Mormons around the world will begin using an updated “Gospel Principles” manual, representing a departure from their normal course of study.
Previously, yearly manuals have focused on the teachings of one of the presidents of the church who are considered by Latter-day Saints to be prophets. But Relief Society and Priesthood classes will take a break from this pattern and get back to basics by using a manual designed for new members of the LDS church.
The 30-year-old Gospel Principals manual has been revised, replacing references to older publications with updated references. One change in particular has drawn attention. References to the book Mormon Doctrine by late apostle Bruce R. McConkie are no longer included. Mormon Doctrine had become a popular encyclopedic reference defining aspects of Latter-day Saint doctrine. While not published by the church, it became very influential.
Fifty years ago today in LDS Church history, on Jan. 7, 1960 top church leaders met to discuss the findings of a yearlong investigation into the content and production of Mormon Doctrine.
President of the LDS church David O McKay and his counselors met with LDS apostles Mark E. Peterson and Marion G. Romney who led the investigation. President McKay’s office journal noted:
They submitted their report upon their examination of the book “Mormon Doctrine” by Elder Bruce McConkie. These brethren reported that the manuscript of the book “Mormon Doctrine” had not been read by the reading committee, that President [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and father-in-law of Bruce R. McConkie] Joseph Fielding Smith did not know anything about it until it was published.”
The committee had taken issue with much of the content of the book and carefully classified problems into four major categories: Statements that offended other religions and “evolutionists”; over-use of terms such as “apostate” in a “discourteous” manner; controversial doctrines; and “miscellaneous interpretations.” Each category was divided into sub-categories backed up with exhibits.
Three years earlier the First Presidency had stopped the publication Elder McConkie’s book “Sound Doctrine” but were unaware he was working on another book. Elder McConkie was a member of the Council of the Seventy at this time, the 3rd highest quorum of the church.
On the 27th, President McKay met with Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith regarding his son-in law. The following conversation took place:
“Now, Brother Smith, he is a General Authority, and we do not want to give him a public rebuke that would be embarrassing to him and lessen his influence with the members of the Church, so we shall speak to the Twelve at our meeting in the Temple tomorrow, and tell them that Brother McConkie’s book is not approved as an authoritative book, and that it should not be republished, even if the errors (some 1,067 of them) are corrected.” Brother Smith agreed with this suggestion to report to the Twelve, and said, “That is the best thing to do.” I then said that Brother McConkie is advocating by letter some of the principles as printed in his book in answer to letters he receives. Brother Smith said, “I will speak to him about that.” I then mentioned that he is also speaking on these subjects, and Brother Smith said, “I will speak to him about that also.”
The next day Apostle Marion G. Romney wrote of his investigation, “The author is an able and thorough student of the gospel. In many respects he has produced a remarkable book. Properly used, it quickly introduces the student to the authorities on most any gospel subject. … [However] the authoritative tone of the style in which it is written pose the question as to the propriety of the author’s attempting such a project without assignment and supervision from him whose right and responsibility it is to speak for the Church on “Mormon Doctrine.”
Elder McConkie was invited to an 8:30 AM meeting where he was informed of the decision of the First Presidency not to allow a second edition which he was preparing. He responded, “I am amenable to whatever you Brethren want. I will do exactly what you want. I will be as discreet and as wise as I can.”
At 10:00, President McKay held a nearly five hour meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
I reported that the First Presidency had talked with Brother McConkie this morning, and he said he will do whatever the Brethren want him to do. He will not attempt to republish the book, nor to say anything by letter, and if he answers letters or inquiries that he will answer them in accordance with the suggestions made by the Brethren, and not advocate those things concerning which question has been raised as contained in the book. The Brethren unanimously approved of this.
Unused copies of the book were recalled and inventories destroyed. But the book continued to cause concern. For example, the next month, President McKay tried to alleviate concerns that the church was against evolution, writing “the Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution. Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny‘ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith nor ‘Mormon Doctrine‘ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church.”
In 1966, Bruce R. McConkie would publish an approved, revised version of Mormon Doctrine which would go on to become a best seller among Latter-day Saints. In 1972 he filled a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles created by the death of his father-in-law, then president of the church.
In 1979 he updated Mormon Doctrine in accordance with a 1978 revelation giving black men the priesthood. McConkie removed doctrinal statements that justified banning black men from full church fellowship.
Latter-day Saint sociologist Armand Mauss noted that for members of the LDS Church, Mormon Doctrine “is considered authoritative, if not definitive, and easily ranks alongside the older Articles of Faith (by Talmage) in its importance.’
Whether use of Mormon Doctrine will decline or not, it will always be considered one of the most influential LDS books of the 20th century.
For more info:
- A great book on David O. McKay
- The Bruce R. McConkie Story
- The New Gospel Principles Manual
- Other changes to the manual
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