What can we see from the mountaintop?

General Conference is around the corner, and one of the things I can always count on during that weekend is at least one talk lamenting the unprecedented wickedness of these last days we’re living in.  Things have never been worse, and the accelerating wickedness will surely hasten the end of the world.  To these speakers change is hardly ever good, it’s the wheel that rolls the world toward it’s inevitable destruction.

I hate these talks.  Not only because they’re depressing, but also because I don’t think the world is getting worse.  I think there is awful suffering and perversity in the world, but that is not new.  Maybe we recognize it better now, with our advanced communications.  But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and by shining more light on the ugly things of the world I think we start to turn them around, bit by bit.

So given that I don’t think the world is on a perpetual decline, I like this talk* by Craig Harline, a historian at BYU.  He talks about change, how early Christians would have been shocked at our acceptance of everyday things like using the word “Sunday” or lending with interest.  He shows how opinions on slavery, interracial marriage, evolution, and women’s suffrage have changed, with examples of things like the fact that in my mother’s lifetime women couldn’t even play full court basketball because it was thought the sport would harm their fragile bodies.  Yes, we are shocked at the narrow mindedness of our ancestors.  But Prof. Harline says some historians theorize that younger generations don’t reject the older generation’s values, but rather extend those values into new territories.

This is where things get really interesting to me.  At the end of the talk Prof. Harline refers to Edward Kimball’s BYU Studies article about his father’s revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy men.  I had heard the story of Spencer W. Kimball making almost daily visits to the temple to seek divine guidance on the topic, but references to that story always implied (at least to me) that he was seeking a “yes” from God.  As in, “I feel that it’s right and good for all worthy men to be ordained.  Can this be?  Do you, God, approve of it?”  But according to Edward Kimball’s article that isn’t the full story.  Apparently President Kimball wasn’t going to the temple to seek revelation in this way, but to get over his assumptions.

President Kimball said this: “I was very humble.  I was searching.  I had a great deal to fight.  Myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it, and defend it as it was.”

I find this stunning.  Prof. Harline says that President Kimball was a hero not in the traditional way we think if religious leaders – as one who fights for his convictions – but because he was willing to reconsider them.  How much harder is it to search your soul and ask which of your convictions may need reconsideration than is it to cross your arms in front of your chest and insist nothing you believe is wrong?  Much, much harder.  But much, much more enlightening.  I hope to have the courage and humility that President Kimball had in my life.

And I hope that our current prophets will as well.  I think the story of President Kimball’s trips to the temple is paradigm changing.  That might sound hyperbolic, but I really think it is.  I’ve usually thought of prophets going to the mountaintop to see visions of what God has in store for humankind.  And it probably does happen that way sometimes.  But what about the times they go to the mountaintop to ask God for different eyes, so that they see the world differently?



* The whole talk is great and fun to listen to, but if you only have time for the bit about Spencer W. Kimball, fast forward to 47:00 and listen to the end (it’s a 5 minute segment).



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14 Responses

  1. Embracing Light says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is beautiful. I can move through this day with a lighter heart.

  2. Rachel says:

    I also had that same impression about President Kimball’s multiple temple visits during that time. I agree that the reality is much braver, and equally admirable. Thank you for sharing it here, and thank you for posting Craig Harline’s talk. I am listening to it. Right. Now.

  3. EmiG says:

    Craig Harline’s talk is a stunning outline of the constancy of change and the shifting perspectives of successive generations. It gives me hope. 🙂 Is there a transcript available?

  4. Heather says:

    This is so enlightening. Thank you!!!

  5. Capricornus says:

    Fantastic, I had no idea! Thanks for sharing, I think it really does shift the paradigm.

  6. April says:

    Oh my! I have heard a small segment of that quote before. Specifically, the part starting with, “…I was prepared to go…” The people who have quoted it have used it to demonstrate the importance of defending the status quo right until the surprising moment when God changes the policy. But it appears, in context, that kimball was in a moral battle with himself to actually overcome his tendency to defend the status quo.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    “How much harder is it to search your soul and ask which of your convictions may need reconsideration than is it to cross your arms in front of your chest and insist nothing you believe is wrong?”

    I love this so much…at first, I thought, “yeah, I have a few people who should hear that.” And, then, I realized how much I need to do that.

    Lovely post, my friend!

  8. NateCC says:

    Bookmarked that BYU Studies article. Excellent insight here. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Ziff says:

    Great post, Emily U. I really like your concluding line:

    “But what about the times they go to the mountaintop to ask God for different eyes, so that they see the world differently?”

    And like EmilyCC, I probably need to think of how I could apply this to me too. 🙂

  10. Aimee says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful and enlightening post, Emily. What a great reference to have as well as a much needed reminder.

  11. I always feel puzzled by the “world is getting worse and worse” thing. As far as I can see, the world is getting better. Isn’t it awesome that everyone can connect from home? Isn’t it great that technology is helping those who are better off help those who are better off? Isn’t it amazing how people have become more and more tolerant of each other?

    Anyway, I’ve never heard that about President Kimball either, though it’s not hard to imagine that he’d have to get over what he’d been taught. My grandpa said a few racist things now and then, and though it bothered me and I would scold him, I knew that he was from a different era. Hopefully each new generation will just become better and better.

  1. September 24, 2013

    […] that we accepted as the way things were supposed to be. Spencer W. Kimball, it is reported, (http://www.the-exponent.com/what-can-we-see-from-the-mountaintop/), didn’t ask God to hand him a script or give him new marching orders as much as he pled with God […]

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