Transcript From PBS Documentary
"The Mormons" 2007
Published in Meridian Magazine
The following is a partial and edited [by Meridian Magazine] transcript from the interview given by Elder Oaks, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with Helen Whitney, producer of the documentary.
Dallin H. Oaks (DHO): One of the stories which I grew up with that means a lot to me involves the period after Joseph Smith was murdered, when the mobs were trying to force Mormons to flee Illinois. And in that setting, several of our ancestors had their homes burned by the mobs.
A particularly poignant experience of my great-grandmother, 6-year-old Louisa Hall, later Louisa Hall Harris, tells how she and her mother fled into a cornfield as a mob burned their home.
Then, as they hid in the cornfield, her mother ran back into the burning home, and later told her daughter that she had gone back to get a pewter pitcher. She said, "I'm not gonna leave that there for them to melt into bullets to kill us with!"
HW: From your testimony of this, you made it clear that you felt no other American group ever endured anything comparable to the officially sanctioned persecution imposed on members of your church. Could just discuss that briefly.
DHO: Religious persecution has been a fact of the American experience. Jews, Catholics, other groups have experienced this, and Mormons experienced it too. But in every case that I'm aware of, that persecution came from neighbors.
But in the case of the Mormons, unique is the fact that their persecution was officially sanctioned by at least two different state governments.
The governor of Missouri activated militia units and issued an order that the Mormons should be driven from the state or exterminated if they could not succeed in driving them out.
Later, the governor of the state of Illinois activated militia units. Those protected the mobs who were burning Mormon homes, and they brought the official power of the government in the form of military action to drive the Mormons out of Nauvoo. Earlier, it was a disbanded Illinois militia unit who murdered the Prophet Joseph Smith.
HW: A range of people talk about the varying reasons - not justifications - for why the Mormons were perceived as a threat.
When I interviewed Richard Bushman, off-camera he said, "When I come to the end of all those explanations, there's a mysterious other layer that I can't quite get to, can't wrap my arms around, about why the Mormons were so feared and hated" in that period.
Do you, in the end, come against a mystery when you look at the reasons for the persecution? Or does it seem comprehensible, looking at the 19th century at that point?
DHO: I think the persecution of the Mormons is largely comprehensible by the factors that existed at that time, but not entirely. There is an element in the fervency and the persistency of it that's hard to explain on rational grounds.
On rational grounds, this was a new religion with at least two elements that were hard to digest in the religious community of that time.
The nature of God and the claim of revelation, or prophetic leadership, together with the fact that this opened the canon of the Bible (so it seemed to be hostile to the Bible) - those are factors that would excite religious prejudice and persecution.
But easier for me to understand in the Nauvoo and Utah periods is the commercial rivalry. The Saints were a self-contained group; they didn't trade with others. They were a commercial threat. This hasn't been written about as much by the historians as I think it should be. In the Utah period, this is very well known and well understood. But in the Nauvoo period, it is less well known.
I think the traffic on the Mississippi River helps to explain it. There were rapids right near Nauvoo, the Des Moines rapids, which at low tide put a halt to shipping between the upper Mississippi and the lower Mississippi.
There was a lot of freight, including heavy lead from the mines in Illinois. When the water was low, you had to move the freight onto land-based transportation, which meant hiring wagons and drivers and horses and so on. And all that was commercially very significant. That business could be transacted either in Nauvoo, at the upper part of the rapids, or in Warsaw, the lower part of the rapids.
Now, the Mormons were competing economically with the people in Warsaw. Remember, it was a militia unit from Warsaw that murdered Joseph Smith. The anti-Mormonism of that time was focused strongly in Warsaw. So I've always felt that commercial rivalries were a very important part of that.
Another of the major reasons for conflict between the Mormons and their neighbors was political rivalry - the fear that the Mormons would vote as a block as their leaders told them to.
I see that factor beginning in Kirtland, and it comes into sharp focus during the Missouri conflicts. It's a very large factor in Nauvoo, in the expulsion from Illinois, and it was a major concern all through the Utah period.
It culminated in the compromise that was finally worked out for the seating of Senator Reed Smoot after the turn of the century.
HW: And what about this "mysterious other layer?" Did you ever reflect on that, or did you take those factors that you've spoken about to explain it?
DHO: After all the objective reasons for this persecution, there is still another layer necessary to explain the persistence and the fervency of it. I have a religious explanation for it which cannot be quantified in objective terms.
I just think that this is the work of the Lord. The devil opposes it and moves people to oppose it by whatever means possible and on whatever grounds will pass muster in the court of public opinion. I think the fervency of those who have sought to destroy us may have come from this.
I have to fall back on my belief that in this world there is good and there is evil. And some of the things that I see happening in the world like the Holocaust are only explainable by a manifestly evil force, and I think some of that evil force was at work against the Mormons in this period.
HW: The historian Jan Shipps said, "the only way you can solve the mystery of Mormonism is by coming to understand the enigma at its core. In the end, that mystery lies in Joseph Smith. He is the endlessly fascinating prophet puzzler."
What made him so puzzling and why was he in his time so controversial?
DHO: Joseph Smith was puzzling to those around him because they could not explain what he was doing or why he was doing it.
He was an uneducated, uncultured man, unconnected to any powers that be, who was organizing a church and telling people that God had spoken to him and told him that all of the churches of that day fell short and that the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ had to be restored and along with it the authority to act in God's name in performing ordinances that would be binding in eternity.
That position of Joseph Smith was a threat to every Christian religious faith in the American continent. I don't think it was perceived by non-Christians to be a threat, but it was to them too, if they had thought about it. He challenged the whole religious establishment of his day, and he did it from a point of obscurity, without an education, or prominence, or position, or power or property.
HW: What were those bold ideas that got people really nervous?
DHO: At the root of Joseph Smith's mission and claims is revelation from God, in the same sense that God spoke to Moses or to other prophets of the Old Testament, in the same sense that God spoke to and through the Twelve Apostles of Christ's time and those who succeeded Him.
Revelation from God to man, which the Christian world generally said ceased with the apostles at the time of Christ, and which Joseph Smith affirmed continued in our day, is at the root of Joseph Smith's mission and his claim to the world.
HW: Would you agree that the other huge idea is an embodied God?
DHO: The first revelation received by Joseph Smith was the appearance to him of the Father and the Son - embodied, separate, identifiable, tangible Beings who appeared to him in what we refer to as the First Vision. And that first revelation, concerning the nature of God as an embodied, glorified, resurrected Being, challenged the creeds of Christianity.
Christianity describes God as a disembodied, incomprehensible, spiritual entity that fills the whole universe.
HW: A big idea! Any other idea that was startling and got people's attention?
DHO: Joseph Smith preached, in a great sermon not long before he was murdered, that God was a glorified Man, glorified beyond our comprehension, but a glorified, resurrected, physical Being, and it is the destiny of His children upon this earth, if they follow the path He has prescribed, to grow into that status themselves.
That was a big idea, a challenging idea. It followed from the First Vision, and it is the explanation for many things that Mormons do - the whole theology of Mormonism.
HW: Is it the core of it?
DHO: The core is the purpose of life for men and women on this earth: to pursue their eternal destiny. Eternal means God-like and to become like God. One of the succeeding prophets said: "As man is, God once was. And as God is, man may become."
That is an extremely challenging idea. We don't understand, we're not able to understand, all about how it comes to pass or what is at its origin, but it explains the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is to put people's feet on the pathway to a glorified existence in the life to come that is incomprehensible, but far closer to God than the Christian world generally perceives.
We have the idea of heaven and hell, of course. Hell is a place where people go that have not done well in keeping God's commandments.
But after people have suffered for their sins, God has a place for them, as His children, in a kingdom of glory.
And those who are good and honorable people go to a higher kingdom, likened in the scriptures to the glory of the moon in contrast to the glory of the stars for the first group.
Then there's a third kingdom, which is so little known that the Mormons are unique in speaking about it. It's the celestial kingdom, where God and His Son, Jesus Christ, dwell. And the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the purpose of the ordinance of baptism, the purpose of the commandments and the purpose of the temple and its ordinances, is to qualify people for that celestial kingdom.
HW: Joseph, the man. I've read so much about him, talked to people who spent their lives looking at him. He's clearly a man who is human and rich in contradictions and layered, and a man when he's a man and a prophet when he's a prophet. How do you see Joseph the man, and what do you perceive as his contradictions?
DHO: I begin by trying to imagine a 14-year-old boy having the vision that he had and then having a period of three or four years where he pondered what it meant, trying to grow up, and then having put upon him in his teen years the responsibility of beginning to translate the Book of Mormon and to organize a church.
I think of the physical and emotional and spiritual immaturity of this young man. And so I cut a lot of slack for the immature actions and the incomplete understandings in the early years of this fledgling prophet.
As he grows older, I marvel at what a quick study he is, how quickly he learns how to do the common things of relating to people, trying to earn a living for his family, making an organization, and defining positions and judging associates and delegating authority. I am amazed at every stage of his development.
As I said, I cut him a lot of slack for what I would consider to be mistakes of immaturity or inexperience. I don't see any moral deviations in this man. People have charged him with things, but I think the record and the reliability of accusations that are made against him is questionable on the available evidence. So I exercise all doubts on conflicting evidence in favor of the man who accomplished what he did, who must have been a pure vessel for God to do so much through him.
HW: Joseph's death (I've asked very few people to recount the events of his death). I sense it's a powerful moment for you. I have some questions about it. I'd love it if you could just briefly tell the events leading up to his death. This is a powerful story.
DHO: The week that culminated in Joseph Smith's death was a time of great stress for the Mormons in the city of Nauvoo. The governor had activated militia units; they were threatening to march on Nauvoo, and war, great loss of life, was in prospect.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was seeking ways to take the steam out of this kettle. He agreed to surrender himself at the county seat of Carthage, some 20 miles from Nauvoo. He knew that his life would be in danger by doing that.
His friends counseled him not to do it. He did it anyway in order to save his people. He surrendered himself on a charge of riot for the destruction of an opposition newspaper in Nauvoo. That was a relatively trivial charge, and he immediately had a hearing and was discharged. But in order to keep him in custody, the enemies charged him with treason, which was not a bailable offense so that the charge of treason, however frivolous it was, kept him in confinement.
While he was in the Carthage Jail for several days, plans were laid to murder him. The governor, whether he was part of the plan or not, certainly facilitated the plan by discharging from state discipline the Warsaw militia.
They were close enough to Carthage that when they were discharged from military discipline they simply took their militia arms and put their wet hands in a powder keg, blackening their faces to make it difficult to recognize them, and went to Carthage.
Some 100-plus men stormed the jail and murdered Joseph Smith. Their leaders were subsequently charged but acquitted of the crime.
Later, their counsel argued that the jury should not convict them because they had simply done what the people wanted them to do, and the people were sovereign. It was an argument later used in civil rights cases in the southern United States, in circumstances better known to this audience, but it originated in what an associate and I call "the Carthage Conspiracy."
HW: Any details of his last hours?
DHO: He was in jail with his brother Hyrum and several other leaders of the Church. It's hot in Illinois late in June. They were in a second-floor cell, more of a room than a cell. They had forebodings of death, and it was a very poignant time for men who, I think, assumed that their death was imminent.
At one point in the afternoon Joseph asked associate John Taylor to sing the song "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," which is a ballad that tells of a person who encounters people in various extreme circumstances, starving or in jail or in persecution, who ministers to their needs and then later in a vision realizes that he's been ministering to the Savior Himself. And He said unto him, "Fear not, if ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me," an essential biblical message. It's a poignant kind of story and a fitting conclusion to a life of service in ministering to the needs of people in extreme circumstances and an affirmation that he had the benediction of his Savior on his life.
HW: Contrary to a range of people's views about the destruction of that press, you've felt strongly Joseph was well within his rights to destroy that press.
DHO: A triggering circumstance that led to the death of Joseph Smith was the so-called riot in the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. It was the charge of riot that took him to Carthage.
The Nauvoo Expositor was a newspaper that published only one issue. It was published in Nauvoo by disaffected Mormons and enemies of Joseph Smith. It made a lot of charges that were very inflammatory about sexual behavior, about political repression, a variety of things.
The city council of Nauvoo was very concerned about that press and felt that it would raise mobs to come to Nauvoo and destroy the city and murder the inhabitants. They, as government officials, had a very legitimate concern.
They debated what to do about it. They read Blackstone, which was a major source of law on the frontier. In Blackstone's commentaries on law, it says that the government officials had authority to destroy a nuisance. And they felt that the press was a nuisance.
After two days of debate (this was not a sudden thing, and opposition was heard in the council), they finally decided to abate, which is to destroy, a nuisance.
A nuisance is something like a stinking carcass or a chemical spill, something of this sort that poses a danger to the health and welfare of society.
The city marshal went out and took the press and removed the type and threw it to the four winds, and destroyed the remaining copies, though there were many of them circulated. That was the suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor.
I'll now talk about the legal side of it.
Mormons have generally apologized - including official Mormon historians - for the destruction of the newspaper, deeming it an interference with freedom of the press, a sacred American Constitutional right.
The problem with that, I found as I researched this according to the law of Illinois and the United States in 1844 (the year this took place), was that freedom of the press did not apply to state or city action at that period. That only came by amendments adopted after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, and it was so declared by the United States Supreme Court in the 1930s in a 5-4 decision. Well, if it took the United States Supreme Court 100 years to declare that the freedom of the press protected the press against city or state action, I can easily sympathize with the people that struggled with that issue in 1844 in Illinois, a time when history shows a lot of newspapers were destroyed on the frontier, mostly along abolitionist issues, pro-slavery or anti-slavery.
It seems to me it's pretty extreme to say that Joseph Smith and his associates were violating the freedom of the press by what they did.
They debated for two days, they fell back on Blackstone, they had no other precedents, and they thought it was legitimate to abate a nuisance, including a newspaper that they thought could bring death and destruction upon their city.
It's hard for us to imagine sympathy today, but I don't think it's fair to judge the 1844 city officials - including Joseph Smith - by our refined notions of law and public policy in this day.
HW: Leaving legality aside, was it wise for him to do that? It led directly to his death.
DHO: It's hard to judge the wisdom of what he did without being in the circumstances he was in. It's hard for us with the benefit of hindsight to make a clear judgment on what he should have done with the circumstances visible to him.
HW: I've been struck with how absolute certain claims are and that there seems to be no middle ground. Why does there seem to be no middle ground?
DHO: Now you've asked a very important question. Ironically, I think it has a very simple answer. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be just another church. We cannot be wishy-washy about our mission or our place in the world because we are a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and if a restoration were not necessary we would have no reason to exist.
HW: What is the "either/or" question, then, for people?
DHO: If the Father and the Son did not appear to Joseph Smith, he was not called as a prophet to restore the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If Peter, James and John did not appear, did not come, to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood, then we do not have the authority to perform the ordinances that define the uniqueness of this Church.
There's no room to say "perhaps" or to use metaphors in that circumstance.
HW: What about the resurrection? So many believe it's not a literal truth, but rather is a metaphor.
DHO: Sure, but you see, that non-literal resurrection is a position that people, who believe in the God they believe in, have to take, because how do you get from the literal, resurrected Christ in the Bible to the mere spirit essence that defines God in their minds?
For us, that's not an issue. We believe in a literal resurrection and a continued embodied identity of the Father and the Son. And that's why the First Vision is so fundamental to us.
HW: Take that thought once again. The stories must be believed in their physical entirety. It's a bold idea, and that's what gives strength. But it's perilous as well.
DHO: The First Vision is something we take on faith because of the witness, Joseph Smith, who has spoken of it.
But the Book of Mormon is something you can hold in your hand. It obviously came from somewhere; it is not imaginary. It is there. Where did it come from and what is it?
We put that forth to the world as a second witness of Jesus Christ, affirming that Christ is the Being we worship. He is our Savior.
This is the second witness, given in our day, and we say, "We believe this book literally, and we believe that it shows that he who brought it forth was a prophet, just as the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy show that Moses, who brought them forth, was a prophet."
HW: Job, arguably, for me, is the most profound scripture ever written. Some say that none of the book's truths are undermined just because there may not have been a Job. Why is it all right to believe in the Book of Job in a metaphorical, middle-ground way, but not your story?
DHO: The book of Job is one of the books of the Old Testament. I do not know which prophet brought it forth. It is part of the great religious tradition of Judaism and Christianity. I cut quite a bit of slack in where the book came from and how literal it is, because its provenance is quite different from the provenance of the first five books of the Old Testament.
The first five books of the Old Testament I give as an example like the New Testament. We know their provenance. Despite a lot of questions we'd like to have answered, we do know who wrote the book of Luke, and who wrote John, and Paul wrote his letters, and so on - a lot about their provenance. They originate with prophets; so did the Pentateuch, so did the Book of Mormon. They're on the same footing.
HW: There's so much in biblical studies right now about what we don't know. While some vulnerability is possibly felt with other faiths, that's not the case with Mormons.
DHO: We do see some things as metaphorical. Clearly some metaphorical expressions have been used by prophets. And that's a continuing struggle to know what is metaphorical and what is literal. That's on a continuum.
So Latter-day Saints don't exclude some metaphors, but we're much closer to the literal side with respect to scriptures than many Christians or Jews reading those same scriptures.
HW: What would you say to faithful, "liberal" Mormons who are searching for "the middle way" to look at the Book of Mormon as an inspired text with profound spiritual meaning?
DHO: To people who have a hard time with the literal claims of scripture, I would say: "Keep your life in balance between reliance on so-called history or science, and reliance on spiritual witnesses and the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Keep open the channels of communication to heaven as well as to scholarly journals."
HW: Describe what that middle way or middle ground is.
DHO: It's hard for me to define a middle ground because I don't believe there is a middle ground when it comes to morality. I don't believe in situational ethics.
I believe that truth is a knowledge of things as they are. While I understand the sincerity of those who are looking for a middle way, I don't think there is a middle way. I think that science and scholarship can lead us toward truth, but I think that people in the end must be willing to surrender their best judgment to revelation from God.
HW: Could you use the middle way, though, in terms of the approach, let's say to the Book of Mormon?
DHO: I don't know what kind of middle way there could be on the Book of Mormon. Either it is a translation of an ancient record under the gift and power of God, or it was written by a mortal. What's the middle way on that? It's either what it claimed to be or somebody else wrote it.
If somebody else did write it, we don't have a scrap of evidence, nor a viable theory after the facts have been looked at, that anybody wrote it other than Joseph Smith.
And the theory that Joseph Smith had the capacity to write it is even discredited by the people who don't accept what he said about where it came from!
What is the middle way on where the Book of Mormon came from?
HW: Possibly the "problem" the Book of Mormon has to a modern person is that there are no precedents to the gold plates.
DHO: A book that has no origin, of course that's a problem! Of course a book, translated from plates that you can't examine to authenticate them, is a terrible problem to anyone who approaches this in a scientific way.
There have been other visionaries, but I don't know of any who have written a book like that. So Joseph is unique in saying, "I had a vision, and it led to this book, and here's the book! Read it, put it to the spiritual test."
Well, it can be put to the spiritual test. Millions have done that and have joined the Church. But it can't be put to scientific test - that really bothers a scientific age! If I wanted science to help me with that, it would bother me too.
HW: I've wondered in your own journey whether you had your questioning moments of faith.
DHO: No, I didn't. How a person develops their faith is suited to their own unique circumstances. I know for some the mountain of their faith originated in a volcanic eruption. The hot lava suddenly flowed, and then the mountain was constructed.
For other people, it's a sedimentary deposit - a little bit at a time, trying or learning this or that, challenging this and challenging that. And then one day it has accumulated into a mountain. That's my experience, so I don't have a specific defining moment.
I came along raised by Mormon parents. Then I went to graduate school where I met a lot of new ideas. Everything I learned along the way affirmed my faith. It accumulated gradually until one day I knew that I knew, and it has continued to accumulate since that time, and now I know better than I ever knew before.
HW: Let's talk a little bit about Mountain Meadows. When did you first hear about it?
DHO: I don't remember when I first heard about the Mountain Meadow Massacre. I think it was in a classroom, probably in high school or college, where I heard that the terrible atrocity was perpetrated by the Indians in southern Utah. I didn't grow up in southern Utah and wasn't immediate to it, so it was just something that wasn't a matter of concern.
Later on, in my readings of Church history, I learned that local Church leaders had participated with the Indians in it. Later, the more I learned about it the more responsible the local Church leaders were.
I also learned that Brigham Young heard about it when it was being planned and sent word, "Don't do it!" but the rider didn't get there in time to stop it.
People are still arguing about Brigham Young's level of responsibility, and I think we'll know more about that when current scholarly work comes out.
HW: [Reads a statement.] "I think that Mountain Meadows will continue to come up until it can be explained." What do you take away from it?
DHO: I think we can only understand Mountain Meadows by understanding the context in which it happened. And part of that context was the frontier, where people had to fight for their lives, where relatives had been killed.
I'm not talking about persecutions at Haun's Mill or in Illinois, but I'm talking about Indian wars and conflicts with the Indians and conflicts with a lawless element of the frontier.
People were much more ready to take a gun and go out and solve the problem along the frontier. That's not just Mormons; that's western America. That's part of the context.
Another part of the context was the Utah War. The president of the United States was sending one-sixth of the U.S. Army out to subdue the Mormons, and there was a lot of talk about killing the Mormons and driving them out. Most of these people had been driven out of one place, some of them two and three places. They were beleaguered.
Then there were provocations reported of this group of travelers that were coming through Mountain Meadows. The provocations are insignificant compared to what was done about them, but there were provocations. And they were in the context of a what later came to be called the Utah War.
Now none of that comes close to justifying what was done, but it is beginning wisdom to realize that these local leaders, without the capacity to communicate clearly with those that presided over them, quickly cleared it. They went ahead and made some very bad decisions. And that's the only way I can put a face on it.
My heart has gone out to the descendants of those who perpetrated that atrocity and to the relatives of those who suffered it. I can only imagine the kind of pain that comes from contemplating the involvement of those that you love in such a tragic episode in the history of the West, so unexplainable.
I have no doubt, on the basis of what I have studied and learned, that Mormons were prime movers in that terrible episode and participated in the killing. What a terrible thing to contemplate, that the barbarity of the frontier and the conditions of the Utah War, whatever provocations were perceived to have been given, would have led to such an extreme episode, such an extreme atrocity perpetrated by members of my faith. I pray that the Lord will comfort those that are still grieved by it and I pray that He can find a way to forgive those who took such a terrible action against human beings.
HW: Another subject. Take me back to the time just before the ban on the priesthood was lifted.
DHO: I can't remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry.
I had been troubled by this subject through college, and law school at the University of Chicago.
I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years 1954 through 1971. There were many times that my heart ached for the change, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father's children.
And I didn't understand why; I couldn't identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the position; I was confident that in the due time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith.
Nobody was more relieved or more pleased when the word came. I remember where I was when I learned that the priesthood would be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I was at a mountain home that our family had purchased to have a place of refuge. I had my sons up there, and we were digging something. We had a big pile of dirt there.
I've forgotten what it was now, but the phone rang in the house. I went inside, and it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He said: "I have been appointed to advise you as president of Brigham Young University and a representative of the professors and students, and so on, many of whom have been troubled by the ban on the priesthood, [Elder Oaks was president of BYU at this time], that the revelation has been received that all worthy male members will be eligible to receive the priesthood, whatever their ancestry."
I thanked him, and I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down [voice cracks with emotion] on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment. I cried for joy and relief that the Lord had spoken through His prophet, that His blessings were now available to all: the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of the temple, the blessings of eternity. That's what we desired. I praise God for it.
HW: I know you weren't there, but you've obviously talked to people who were there. Is there anything that you could vivify for us?
DHO: Revelation comes in a lot of different ways. A face-to-face vision of God is very rare. That was the First Vision of God to Joseph Smith.
Another way is by the appearance of an angel. The Apostle Paul had that kind of experience.
Revelation can also come in a dream or a vision.
None of those were experienced in the revelation on the priesthood.
Other ways that revelation comes are in feelings of comfort or information, or in communicating restraint, or impelling one to do something.
I think, in the context of descriptions I have heard from my brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve about the revelation on the priesthood, that this was revelation that confirmed what they desired and gave them a feeling of rightness about its timing.
The prophet of the Lord, President Spencer W. Kimball, had pleaded with the Lord for guidance on this problem which the Church faced as it became a worldwide church.
More and more there were good and worthy and wonderful people who desired the blessings of the restored gospel and were blocked by the Church's position that they could not receive the priesthood. And I think everyone in that room in the temple desired and wished and hoped that the Lord would say, "This is the time."
I was not there, and I didn't hear the words spoken. But often when we pray for guidance we say, "I'm inclined to do this, is this right?" We look for confirmation.
I've had that experience many times of the Lord confirming an action. Sometimes I'll feel a restraint. I'll propose to do something and the feeling is profound: "Don't do it!"
And I've heard my brethren tell me that this was a profound feeling to confirm the rightness and the timing for lifting the ban on the priesthood. And the feeling was sufficiently profound and sufficiently individual that they have described it in different ways. But it fits for me within many revelatory experiences I've had in my life.
HW: President Kimball really put extensive effort into this, didn't he?
DHO: But that's the way revelation works on many subjects. On difficult, complex subjects the Lord tells us to "study it out in our mind." We reach a conclusion, we ask Him if it is right, we wait upon these feelings.
I've done that many, many times in the selection of a stake president, for instance, over 100 times. I've interviewed 25 to 30 people, studied it out in my mind and felt this person or that person might be the leader, and then gone to the Lord.
And my narrowing work has been useful, but in the end the Lord says who it should be.
HW: Polygamy was a spiritual, if not essential, principle - it was tied to many things. It was extremely important. Could you just describe that revelation and its spiritual logic?
DHO: I am too far removed from polygamy to give a credible explanation of the importance of that practice to those who received it from the Prophet Joseph Smith or Brigham Young.
I've just wondered about this, but I'm too far removed from it to explain it. But I know how important it was. I feel it in my own ancestry. I have perfect faith in the doctrine and will understand more about it in time to come.
HW: Did you have relatives who were pursued by federal agents? Do you know something about that, the hardship people went through?
DHO: My great-grandfather, Charles Harris, was one of the last men imprisoned for polygamy. He was sentenced to three months in prison in 1893, which was very late in the prosecution of people for having more than one wife. He was on the run for a long time before that and finally, probably, surrendered himself just so he could live a more normal life.
This disrupted his family; it was a terrible hardship. And that was close to me because my mother grew up in the household of one of his sons (her father). And the mother also lived with them in the closing years of her life. So my mother was a firsthand observer of the disruptions that took place as a result of polygamy.
My grandfather's sister, the daughter of the man who was imprisoned for polygamy, went to prison - one of the few women who were sent to prison for the practice of polygamy.
Her case was this: she was the second or third wife of a man who was being prosecuted for cohabitation. She was summoned, put on the witness stand and ordered to answer whether she had received a plural marriage relationship and was living in it with the man being prosecuted.
She refused to answer, on the ground that she was protected by the husband-wife privilege. The judge ruled that privilege didn't apply to a subsequent wife, and that case went to the Utah Supreme Court.
While I was serving on that court I read that opinion. It was the case of Belle Harris. She did not have the privilege because she was a plural wife. The judge ordered her to answer. She refused. He sent her to jail for contempt.
She went to jail with her baby and served about three or four months in the Utah State Penitentiary.
She was something of a cause celebre at the time (it was in the 1880s) because the eastern press couldn't imagine that there was a woman who was not oppressed by polygamy.
And here was a woman who went to jail to defend her husband and to defend the practice. She was a heroine and served her time.
When the time of the grand jury was up, they couldn't hold her any longer. There was no more order for her to testify, and she went back to her life.
That woman, Belle Harris, then lived in Provo. She was a dear aunt of my mother. When my mother was pregnant with me, she went to her aunt's place, and I was born in that woman's home - a home birth with doctors in attendance, so I feel kind of close to Belle Harris.
In fact, Harris is my middle name, the maiden name of my mother. So polygamy is very close to me.
HW: The afterlife. I was struck right from the beginning of my research by the concreteness and specificity of the Mormon afterlife. I'm asking a personal question. I just finished reading one of C.S. Lewis' books, a book he wrote after his wife died.
For a good year or so he lost his faith because the grief was so profound in losing his wife. Has your faith ever been so tested?
DHO: I think my faith in the afterlife was profoundly affirmed by the death of my wife, June, because I immediately felt the reality of what I had believed all my life, that this life is simply a stage of eternal progression and that when she died she didn't cease to exist. Her spirit left her body.
She was close by. I could feel her presence. I could feel a sense of communication with her. I felt a sense of rightness in the plan of God with the fact that He had taken her home at this particular time. It was a time of grief, a time of profound sadness, but never a time of feeling doubt about the gospel, or rejection from the love of God; rather, a time to draw closer to it and rely on it more completely.
HW: I must admit I wish that for myself!
DHO: I understand. I'm uniquely gifted in that because of my religious faith and because of the faith of my wife, June, and because of many experiences that I have had and the revelations affirming the truth of the principle of the resurrection, affirming to me the truth of the principle of eternal marriage, I felt prepared.
HW: Thank you very much for a most enlightening interview. This has been a sincere pleasure. I'm very grateful for your time.
DHO: Thank you for taking the time to look at some of these things in a depth that I think will give people a much clearer picture of who we are, what we believe, and how we see our role in the world.
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