Chapter 6
Home Up

Chapter 6
Context and Analysis:
"You Have Heard True Doctrine Taught":
Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s 1981-82 Addresses

Lavina Fielding Anderson







David Pace’s experience is an example of secondary abuse.1 Elder McConkie’s double public rebukes were not directed to him; however, they were directed to a member of his family, placing him, as a missionary and as a son, in a cruel dilemma of divided loyalties. Although as a teenager David had ambiguous feelings about his father’s spiritual mode and did not, in fact, feel motivated to emulate it, he had no question about his father’s basic goodness and righteousness. Nor was there any question in his mind that this public attack from a revered ecclesiastical leader was brutally unkind and that it made his father and mother suffer greatly. The fact that Elder McConkie justified his rebukes by a theological position that seemed subtle to the point of contradicting other Mormon scriptures and General Authorities further distanced David from the Church. But the fact that some General Authorities privately agreed that the action was inappropriate while letting it stand—with all its personal, social, ecclesiastical, and professional ramifications for George and Diane Pace and the family—became too heavy a burden for David to carry. The family was, in effect, asked to collaborate in the abuse by not protesting its injustice. Although George Pace was able to do this, his son was not.

The documents below give a biographical overview of George Pace, summarize the contents of his inadvertently controversial book, quote from publicly available reports on Elder McConkie’s two attacks, the first in the fall of 1981 and the second in the spring of 1982, then recount some of the public reactions and responses to those attacks, including George Pace’s letter of "clarification" and apology.


George W. Pace, according to biographical information on the jacket of What It Means to Know Christ (Provo: Council Press, 1981), grew up in Idaho, served a mission, graduated from BYU with a degree in political science, married, and returned to Burley, Idaho, with a new wife and daughter where he helped his father farm from 1954-59. A series of spiritual experiences, which he recounts in the book, led him toward religious education. He opened and directed the first LDS Institute of Religion at Fort Collins, Colorado, and also directed the Institute of Religion at Stanford University in California while he and Diane struggled with the needs of a growing family (which eventually numbered two sons and ten daughters). He became an associate professor of religion at BYU in 1967 where he was awarded a doctorate in religious education in 1976. In 1978, he was named Professor of the Year by BYU students and also, in April of that same year, became president of BYU 10th Stake. Among earlier Church callings were serving on numerous high councils, being branch president at the Missionary Training Center, and a being a counselor in the stake presidency. He was a popular speaker at BYU Education Weeks and Know Your Religion series, had a popular series of motivational tapes, and compiled a faith-promoting series of experiences called The Faith of Young Mormons.

In early 1981, What It Means to Know Christ appeared and sold very well. The 225-page volume consisted of ten chapters: (1) The Pearl of Greatest Price, (2) To Know the Lord Is to Know We May Converse with Him as One Man Converses with Another, (3) To Know the Lord Is to Know He is Literally the Son of God, (4) To Know the Lord Is to Know by Personal Revelation the Reality of the Savior’s Atoning Sacrifice for Us, (5) To Know the Lord Is to Know That Through the Second Birth We Can Become Like Him, (6) To Know the Lord Is to Know We Can Live under His Daily Influence by and Through the Holy Ghost, (7) To Know the Lord Is to Know That He Is a God of Power and That by and Through Him We Can Fulfill All His Commandments, (8) To Know the Lord Is to Recognize and Accept His Living Prophets, (9) To Know the Lord Is to Know Him as a Loving Father and to Know That We Can Acquire His Divine Love, and (10) To Know the Lord Is to Desire to See His Face While We Are Yet in the Flesh.

The first sentence of the foreword gives Brother Pace’s orientation: "Over the years I have been stimulated by the scriptures and the writings of the General Authorities to do all in my power to know the Savior and develop a personal relationship with him" (n.p.) He describes, in Chapter 1, his belief that "the pearl of greatest price is a dynamic personal relationship with Christ" (1). The book is replete with scriptures, with personal experiences, and with quotations from General Authorities and their revelatory experiences with the Savior to buttress this point. Interestingly, two of the four initial experiences that instilled in Brother Pace a hunger to know the Savior were listening to the testimonies of the Savior borne by J. Reuben Clark and an unnamed, presumably still-living, General Authority (8-9). He urged his readers to "break the [prayer] barrier" by emulating the prophet Enos and praying for twenty to thirty minutes at a time and also by praying aloud. He reported his own first experiences, which, contrary to Elder McConkie’s implications, had not resulted in self-induced emotionalism but rather in the lack of any form of experience, spectacular or otherwise. It was after he was home, in dealing with his wife and children, that he noticed an increase of love.

Brother Pace also reported preparing for a seminary lesson on the last week of Christ’s life and feeling "so deeply the sorrow and pain [of] the Savior ... That I thought my heart would break. For the first time in my life, while reading the scriptures, I wept openly" (89).

Far from being defiant of apostolic or ecclesiastical authority, Brother Pace repeatedly affirmed their authority. In the chapter entitled "To Know the Lord Is to Accept His Living Prophets," he argued that there was no dividing line between spiritual and temporal matters, that the Lord could give a commandment that contradicted an earlier commandment, and that "if we are totally obedient to the revelations of the current prophet," the Saints could become one "in every phase of political, economic, social, and religious life" (187). He spoke with dismay of some Latter-day Saints in a college setting who criticized some of the pronouncements of certain Brethren:

The critics of whom I speak were basically good people and all of them were active in the Church. Initially I assumed that the difference in how they felt about the Brethren and how others felt about the Brethren was mostly a matter of semantics and that if we kept a dialogue open long enough, we would come to realize that our faith and confidence in the prophets was really the same. But such was not the case. The differences were real, things were viewed from two whole different perspectives. (193)

He attributed disagreement with the prophets to two main problems: intellectual pride and personal sin. He quoted the example of Korihor and also cited President Harold B. Lee’s teachings about pride:

"We have gone through, and are going through a period that we might call sophistication. I do not know what that word (sophistry) means either, but it generally means that there are so many confounded smart people that they are unwilling to listen to the humble prophets of the Lord." (193)

Brother Pace, to illustrate his point about personal sin, related the resistance of a bright and contentious student who argued persistently with virtually everything he said in class. He kept the student after class one day and

tried to persuade him to be more accepting of other doctrine of the Church. ... His arguments were well thought out and reflected powerfully the wisdom of men.

All of a sudden, it was made known to me that the young man was immoral. It came so suddenly and with such force that I simply blurted out, "Young man, are you immoral?"

His mouth dropped open, his eyes widened, and with a stunned look he quickly said, "Yes, very immoral, and I have been for some time."

I was so relieved to discover that his antagonism and persuasive argument stemmed from a determination to justify his sins that I’m afraid I almost squealed with delight. I told him strongly that I now knew his bold arguments came from a heart aching from a stricken conscience. I pled with him to forsake his sins and to go to his bishop and confess. He very humbly acknowledged that he would, and he did! Some months later, he married a non-member sweetheart, and what a thrill to learn that in less than two years, due to the completeness of his repentance, his wife became converted and they were married in the temple.

Members of the Church who are critical of the Lord’s anointed are generally suffering from pride or from individual sin, both of which keep a person from enjoying the Spirit... . (195)

George Pace continued to teach religion classes until his retirement from Brigham Young University. An advertisement on KSL-TV before and after sessions of general conference on 5-6 October 1996 mentioned that he narrated a "family preparedness video" for Emergency Essentials, a company that creates food storage items and personal and car seventy-two hour kits. Emergency Essential products are sold by Deseret Book stores and ZCMIs, both Church-owned corporations.


At no point did Elder McConkie name George Pace, although his description of his book and his quotation from it six months later left no doubt whom he meant. Elder McConkie’s first attack on George Pace’s encouragement to develop a personal relationship with Christ was delivered on 31 October 1981 to the presidencies and bishops of BYU’s fourteen student stakes. As reported in "Update, Sunstone, 6, no. 6 (November/December 1981): 59, "his Saturday leadership meeting remarks" were spoken "extemporaneously and casually, stopping occasionally to ask for questions." His general theme was counseling "the local Church leaders that they were to help students to be well-rounded individuals and to find a balance between spiritual and intellectual concerns." He warned against "fanaticism or over-zealousness, ... religious fads and extremism in anything."

The article then reported nine examples of what he called "extremism" among both students and ecclesiastical leaders which he counseled avoiding: giving excessively burdensome callings (he told them that when he was a law student, Marion G. Romney, his stake president, had released him from that calling because "a law student was too busy"); prohibiting students from studying on Sunday; allowing students to seek "special blessings" ("These tend to encourage an unhealthy dependent relationship between the member and the priesthood holder, especially if they are not related, and to encourage undue reliance upon divine intervention in mundane matters"); praying on dates; choosing a marriage partner (he encouraged using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation"); making no long-term goals in the mistaken belief that the second coming of Christ is imminent; lacking discretion in ecclesiastical interviews (he warned leaders "not [to] plant any ideas in people’s heads"); and avoiding "a witchhunting attitude when discussing which sins should be confessed to a bishop."

In the middle of these examples was a tenth:

Too much emphasis has been placed on certain well-intentioned goals, Elder McConkie said, leading people to lose their "balance." One such fad going around in the Church, he said, is the goal of developing a personal relationship with Christ. Noting that it was difficult to preach against such a doctrine, he explained that Jesus taught his followers to worship the Father, in his name, through the Holy Ghost. Thus one who has the "mind of Christ" will do what he did. If a special relationship is needed, it should be with the Father."

This particular "fad" was the only one, at least as reported, against which Elder McConkie supplied any kind of doctrinal or theological justification. If he had omitted this justification, it might have been possible to see his remarks as simply more good advice about avoiding extremes in all sorts of religious practices. However, by making it a doctrinal issue, Elder McConkie thereby committed himself to maintain theological purity in the Church, especially since he had long had the reputation of being the Church’s most authoritative voice on theological matters. It is not known what kind of response he received, either from supporters of George Pace or from those concerned about the exclusion of the Savior from a relationship between God and humankind. Six months later, he intensified his position, this time thoroughly buttressed with scripture and appeals to his apostolic authority, when he gave his controversial address, "What Is Our Relationship to Members of the Godhead?" at a BYU devotional, 2 March 1981.

This address was excerpted at length in the Church News (20 March 1982, 5), then under the editorship of conservative Apostle Mark E. Petersen. There is only one set of ellipses on the page, making it difficult to know the extent to which the speech has been edited. As presented there, he introduced his remarks by stating with crushing authoritativeness:

I shall set forth what we must believe relative to the Father and the Son in order to gain eternal life.

I shall expound the doctrine of the Church relative to what our relationship should be to all members of the Godhead, and do so in plainness and simplicity so that none need misunderstand or be led astray by other voices. I shall express the views of the Brethren, of the prophets and apostles of old, and of all those who understand the scriptures and are in tune to the Holy Spirit.

These matters lie at the very foundation of revealed religion. In presenting them I am on my own ground and am at home with my subject. I shall not stoop to petty wranglings about semantics, but shall stay with matters of substance. I shall simply go back to basics and set forth fundamental doctrines of the kingdom, knowing that everyone who is sound spiritually and who has the guidance of the Holy Spirit will believe my words and follow my counsel.

Many false and vain and foolish things are being taught in the sectarian world and even among us about our need to gain a special relationship with the Lord Jesus. I shall summarize the true doctrine in this field and invite erring teachers and beguiled students to repent and believe the accepted gospel verities as I shall set them forth.

After this bulldozing introduction, Elder McConkie got down to brass tacks. Describing the Godhead as an "Eternal Presidency," he claimed that scriptural references to God could refer to either the Father or the Son "because it doesn’t make any difference which God is involved." Nevertheless, "our relationship with the Father is supreme, paramount and pre-eminent over all others. He is the God we worship. It is His gospel that saves and exalts. ... He is the one to whom we have direct access by prayer, and if there were some need—which there is not—to single out one member of the Godhead for a special relationship, the Father, not the Son, would be the one to choose."

In the first of three paragraphs devoted to Jesus Christ, Elder McConkie largely confined himself to a list of titles: elder brother, "the Lord Jehovah, ... God of Israel, the Promised Messiah and the Redeemer of the world." Our duties are to have faith in him, "become his children, ... Take upon ourselves His name, keep His commandments, and rejoice in the cleansing power of His blood. Salvation comes by Him. . There neither has been nor will be any act of such transcendent power and import as His atoning sacrifice. ... He is our Lord, our God and our King."

The Holy Ghost, which Elder McConkie referred to with male pronouns, reveals, sanctifies, "dispenses spiritual gifts," and provides "constant companionship" to those who have been baptized and confirmed. Tellingly, he then implicitly ranked the Holy Ghost above Jesus:

And again, if it were proper—and I repeat, it is not—to single out one member of the Godhead for some special attention, we might well conclude [that] that member should be the Holy Ghost. We might well adopt as a slogan: Seek the Spirit. The reason, of course, is that the sanctifying power of the Spirit would assure us of reconciliation with the Father. And any person who enjoys the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit will be in complete harmony with the divine in all things.

After outlining "these truths which ought to be obvious to every spiritually enlightened person," he denounced "deluded cultists ... who choose to believe we should worship Adam," "intellectuals without strong testimonies who postulate that God ... is progressing in truth and knowledge and will do so everlastingly," and a third class characterized by

excessive zeal that causes them to go beyond the mark. ... In an effort to be truer than true they devote themselves to gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ that is both improper and perilous.

I say perilous because this course, particularly in the lives of some who are spiritually immature is a gospel hobby that creates an unwholesome holier-than-thou attitude. In other instances it leads to despondence because the seeker after perfection knows he is not living the way he supposes he should.

Another peril is that those so involved often begin to pray directly to Christ because of some special friendship they feel has been developed. In this connection, a current and unwise book, which advocates gaining a special relationship with Jesus, contains this sentence—"Because the Savior is our mediator, our prayers go through Christ to the Father, and the Father answers our prayers through His Son."

This is plain sectarian nonsense. Our prayers are addressed to the Father, and to Him only. They do not go through Christ, or the Blessed Virgin, or St. Genevieve or along the beads of a rosary. ... Perfect prayer is addressed to the Father, in the name of the Son; it is uttered by the power of the Holy Ghost; and it is answered in whatever way seems proper by Him whose ear is attuned to the needs of His children.

Now I know that some may be offended at the counsel that they should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ. It will seem to them as though I am speaking out against mother love, or Americanism, or the little red school house. But I am not. There is a fine line here over which true worshippers will not step.

It is true that there may, with propriety, be a special relationships with a wife, with children, with friends, with teachers, with the beasts of the fields and the fowls of the sky and the lilies of the valley. But the very moment anyone singles out one member of the Godhead as the almost sole recipient of his devotion, to the exclusion of the others, that is the moment when spiritual instability begins to replace sense and reason.

... Clearly there is a difference between a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord, which is improper, and one of worshipful adoration, that yet maintains the required reserve between us and Him who has bought us with His blood.

Now I sincerely hope no one will imagine that I have in the slightest degree downgraded the Lord Jesus in the scheme of things. I have not done so. As far as I know there is not a man on earth who thinks more highly of Him than I do. ... but you have been warned, and you have heard the true doctrine taught.2

Public reaction to this speech included indignation from anti-Mormon ministries at the ways in which the speech departed from traditional Christian teachings. One photographic reproduction of the speech in pamphlet form noted that a copy of the speech in manuscript, obtained from Elder McConkie’s office, included additional statements belaboring his attack on a relationship with Christ. They quoted:

I am well aware that some who have prayed for endless hours feel they have a special and personal relationship with Christ that they never had before. I wonder if this is any or much different however, from the feelings of fanatical sectarians who with glassy eyes and fiery tongues assure us that they have been saved by grace. ... I wonder if it is not part of Lucifer’s system to make people feel they are special friends of Jesus when in fact they are not following the normal and usual pattern of worship found in the true Church.3

Gerald and Sandra Tanner also made a photo-reproduction of the page from the Church News, including a running marginal commentary, largely consisting of scriptural quotations about the role of Christ in salvation and labels of peculiarly Mormon doctrines.

An editorial in the Seventh East Press, an off-campus student newspaper at BYU, carefully acknowledged that Elder McConkie was "acting rightly in his apostolic calling" but commented that his "attempt to help us become ‘of one mind’ was done at the cost of hindering us from becoming ‘of one heart.’" The editorial commented:

We have been surprised at the overwhelming number of traditionally conservative, orthodox, sustaining LDS members who have expressed criticism of Elder McConkie’s presentation. People who we would never have suspected to say an unkind word about their delinquent home teacher have gone out of the way to state their distress over Elder McConkie’s "uncharitable rebuke" of George Pace, abrasive style of presentation, unneeded mocking of other religion’s rituals and saints, dogmatic approach, and condescending tone.

The editorial concluded by commending Doctrine and Covenants 121 as a better guide and asking the reader to imagine how President Hinckley would "have made the same points" without being "offensive."4 A cartoon in the same issue showed a pajamaed BYU student kneeling by his bed and asking bemusedly, "Now, WHO am I suppose[d] to pray to?" (p. 9)

A letter to the editor from T. Allen Lambert of Ithaca, New York, pointed out that Elder McConkie himself had written in The Promised Messiah: "Our answers come from the Son. ... [He] pleads our cause. He is our Mediator and Intercessor. Righteous persons do have a close, personal relationship with their Savior" (p. 335). The Relief Society manual for April 1982 contained a lesson, "Developing a Relationship with the Savior," (pp. 24-26), which quoted President Marion G. Romney on the importance of "personal two-way communication with the Lord" and Brigham Young as saying, "The greatest and most important of all requirements ... is to believe in Jesus Christ, confess him, seek him, cling to him, make friends with him" (Journal of Discourses 8:339). Lambert continued: Elder James E. Faust in general conference had queried: "‘Is not the greatest need in all the world for every person to have a personal, ongoing, daily, continuing relationship with the Savior? ... Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity within us.’ And he spoke of ‘... The assuring comfort of a personal relationship with the Savior." ("A Personal Relationship with the Savior," Ensign, Nov. 1976, 85). H. Burke Peterson of the Presidency Bishopric urged listeners to "develop your personal relationship with the Savior" (Ensign, November 1981, 36). Elder Neal A. Maxwell, as a newly sustained apostle, said: "We can trust, worship, and even adore him [Jesus] without any reservation" (Ensign, Nov. 1981, 8).

Lambert said he had written to Elder McConkie, perplexed by these discrepancies. The answer he received "asserted that the speech stands sufficient on its own." Elder McConkie had added: "‘It is obviously unfortunate that the Relief Society lesson has the perspective that it does. This will not happen again.’"

Lambert listed his questions:

How can we be a disciple or follow Him if we do not know Him and how can we know Him without a personal relationship? To know Him is to have (some) personal relationship. The alternative is to have an impersonal relationship: If we do not have a (proper) personal relationship with Him how are we to imitate Him and how can He come to us and introduce us to the Father? Is he not our brother and is not a sibling relationship personal? ... I do not find in the Scriptures a teaching of reserve, distance and impersonality but of love, friendship, fellowship, and embracing.5

In addition to his letter to Lambert insisting that his address stood on its own and required no interpretation, Elder McConkie also sent out a form letter to people who wrote with questions or concerns about his devotional address. This form letter had been drafted two years earlier, on 1 July 1980. An eight-page single-spaced letter, it was addressed "To Honest Truth Seekers" and titled "Finding Answers to Gospel Questions." In his opening paragraph, Elder McConkie explained:

I receive a flood of letters asking questions about the doctrines, practices, and history of the Church. Several thousand questions are presented to me each year. Recently I received a single letter containing 210 major questions plus numerous lesser ones. To answer the questions in this one letter alone would have taken several hundred pages. Frequently I have a stack of unanswered letters which is six or eight inches high. There are times when weeks go by without an opportunity even to read the letters let alone attempt to answer them.

Thoughtful persons will realize that if I devoted all my waking hours to the research and work involved in answering the questions which come to me, I still would not be able to answer all of them. But—and this is far more important—if I were able to perform this service it still would not be the right thing to do nor be in the best interests of those who present their problems to me. May I instead make the following general suggestions to those who seek answers to gospel questions.

He then listed twelve suggestions: (1) seek light and truth, (2) search the scriptures, (3) true doctrines are in harmony with the standard works, (4) seek to harmonize scriptural and prophetic utterances, (5) are all prophetic utterances true? (6) leave the mysteries alone and avoid gospel hobbies, (7) be not overly concerned about unimportant matters, (8) withhold judgment, if need be, on hard questions, (9) ignore, if you can, the endless array of anti-Mormon literature and avoid cults like a plague, (10) there are no private doctrines, (11) maintain an open mind, and (12) the responsibility to study is a personal one.

Although the only specific doctrinal issues he used as examples were fundamentalist polygamy and (obliquely) the Adam-God doctrine preached by Brigham Young, his fourth suggestion, "Seek to harmonize scriptural and prophetic utterances," invalidated discussions based on contradictions between scriptures and authoritative utterance:

Every truth, in every field, in all the earth, and in all eternity, is in complete and total harmony with every other truth. Truth is always in harmony with itself. The word of the Lord is truth, and no scripture ever contradicts another, nor is any inspired statement of any person out of harmony with an inspired statement of any other person. Paul and James did not have differing views on faith and works, and everything that Alma said about the resurrection accords with Section 76 in the Doctrine and Covenants. When we find seeming conflicts, it means we have not as yet caught the full vision of whatever points are involved.

The Lord expects us to seek for harmony and agreement in the scriptures and among the Brethren rather than for seeming divergence of views. Those who have faith and understanding always seek to harmonize into one perfect whole all the statements of the scripture and all the pronouncements of the brethren. The unfortunate complex in some quarters to pounce upon this bit of information or that and conclude that it is at variance with what someone else has said is not of God. Over the years I have received thousands of letters saying, "So-and-So said one thing, but Some-One-Else said the reverse—who is right?" My experience is that in most instances, nay, in almost all instances—the seeming divergences can be harmonized, and when they cannot be it is of no moment anyway. The Spirit of the Lord leads to harmony and unity and agreement and oneness. The spirit of the devil champions division and debate and contention and disunity.


George Pace prepared a statement (not dated), in which he unreservedly apologized for his "incorrect doctrine":

At the BYU devotional of March 2, 1982, Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke about our proper relationship with the Father and the Son and expressed concern about some misinterpretations which are abroad. In the course of his remarks he characterized my book, What It Means to Know Christ, as unwise because it "advocates gaining a special relationship with Jesus." I sincerely desire to be in total harmony with the Church’s teachings and take this means to correct a statement in the book and to clarify what is said there about our proper relationship with the Savior.

In the book I stress the importance of knowing Christ. If that has given the impression that I give some precedence to the Son over the Father, I am sorry. Christ himself taught us to worship and pray to the Father. We have faith in Christ, but we do not pray to him, and we recognize that what he has done he has done under the direction of the Father, to whom both he and we pay allegiance. In our reverence for the Son we acknowledge that his great atoning sacrifice was for the purpose of reconciling us with the Father. On page 29 of my book I stated that our prayers go through Christ to the Father. That is incorrect doctrine. That Christ is our mediator does not mean that we speak to the Father through him; our prayers go directly to the Father.

My urging that we develop a relationship with Christ is not intended to suggest that we thereby deemphasize the Father or the Holy Ghost. I might better have urged that we develop a relationship with all the members of the Godhead, because I have not meant to urge any divisive distinction among them. I only mean to emphasize that we need to live more spiritual lives, drawing close to them all. Sometimes we can become so busily engaged in the mechanics of Church work that we fail to develop our spiritual powers. Christ is our example; we should follow him and seek to become like him. Though we should be respectful and avoid an effort at inappropriate familiarity, we need to draw closer to Christ and the Father than we have.

Elder McConkie warned against excess and noted that it is possible to pray too much and demand too much of God. People who follow this road may consider themselves holier than others or may become despondent because their extravagant expectations for themselves are disappointed. If my teaching the importance of a more intense prayer life than most of us engage in has led people to excess, I regret that. The example of Enos and the statements of many Church leaders remind us that there are times, especially when we are struggling for a testimony or for forgiveness, for extended prayer, but praying is not a substitute for living the gospel and should not become an end in itself.

I mean to stay in the mainstream of the Church, urging any with whom I have influence to listen to the words of our leaders, to pray earnestly for guidance, and to grow spiritually in our capacity to be obedient to the will and mind of God for us, giving full and appropriate reverence to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

George W. Pace


Rumors circulated that Elder McConkie had been chastised—though whether for his doctrinal interpretation or for the heavy-handed rebuke—was never specified. According to David Pace, Elder McConkie never apologized to Brother Pace. It was also not clear whether the rumored rebuke came informally from fellow apostles or from the First Presidency.

The rumors were sometimes detailed: Elder McConkie had been required to apologize to the Quorum; and when his first statement, defensive and self-justifying, was deemed inadequate, he was instructed to apologize again. He was also, according to rumor, instructed to make a strong statement affirming his belief in Christ at general conference. Again, according to the rumor, his first statement was deemed inadequate and he was required to make a further statement. According to this version, his last address at general conference, delivered in April 1985 when he was dying of cancer, was in fulfillment of this requirement.

A man attending the Sunstone session sponsored by the Mormon Alliance at which David made this initial presentation, during the question-answer period, said that he had seen a copy of a certified letter by a Latter-day Saint with business interests in both California and Utah, formally charging Elder McConkie with heresy. This businessman had shown the speaker his copy of the letter and had also related a conversation with President Spencer W. Kimball, who had expressed dismay at Elder McConkie’s remarks because "people already think we’re not Christians."6

There is no publicly available evidence to document any of these rumors. At the April 1982 general conference, immediately after the BYU devotional, Elder McConkie spoke in the priesthood session on "The Doctrine of the Priesthood" (Ensign, May 1982, 32-34). Six months later, his address, delivered in the Saturday afternoon session, was, perhaps more significantly, "The Seven Christs" (Ensign, Nov. 1982, 32-34). However, this talk cataloged Christ’s roles as "creator, God of our fathers, the promised Messiah, the Mortal Messiah, the crucified yet risen One, today’s Messiah, and the millennial Messiah." These roles incorporated the titles of Elder McConkie’s lengthy and popular trilogy: The Promised Messiah, The Mortal Messiah, and The Millennial Messiah. "Our faith is centered in the true and living Christ, who is our Friend, our Lord, our God, and our King, and whom we serve in worshipful adoration," he stated.

In 1983, he spoke on "The Keys of the Kingdom" (Ensign, May 1983, 21-23), a strong affirmation of apostolic authority. After describing the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods and other keys, he discussed succession in the presidency. In November, he spoke on "What Think Ye of the Book of Mormon?" (Ensign, Nov. 1983, 72-74)

In April conference in 1984, he spoke on "Patterns of Prayer" (Ensign, May 1984, 32-34), commenting: "We do not give memorized, ritualistic, or repetitious prayers ... but it would be appropriate for us to use words that convey such thoughts as these in our prayers: ‘Father, we ask thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to hear the words of our mouth ... ’" Thirty-six paragraphs of "model" prayer followed. One section of the prayer dealt with gratitude for Christ, "whom we worship in the full majesty of his godhood" (33). In November, he delivered a talk entitled, "The Caravan Moves On" (Ensign, Nov. 1984, 82-85), the title of which referred to the image of the Church as a caravan passing through villages unhindered by the yapping of dogs (critics). "On every issue it behooves us to determine what the Lord would have us do and what counsel he has given through the appointed officers of his kingdom on earth," stated Elder McConkie. "No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a cause, or espouse a course, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith" (84). While it is possible that this statement could have been a declaration of submission and compliance to his own ecclesiastical authorities, its dogmatic tone and the direction of its pronouncement seems rather to be a message to the members than a message to other General Authorities.

On 6 April 1985, Elder McConkie, then in the final stages of cancer, spoke on "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane" (Ensign, May 1985) saying:

I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. ...

In speaking of these wondrous things, I shall use my own words though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.

True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance. (9)

After describing Christ’s premortal role and mortal ministry, Elder McConkie concluded, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion:

I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood ... (11)

He died thirteen days later on 19 April.

Some felt that the inclusion of Elder McConkie’s hymn, "I Believe in Christ," written in 1972 and included in the 1985 hymnal (no. 134), constituted the rumored affirmation that was required of him. The text’s four verses express praise ("I’ll raise my voice in praise and joy, / In grand amens my tongue employ"; "I believe in Christ; he stands supreme! / From him I’ll gain my fondest dream"), describe events of Christ’s mortal ministry ("He healed the sick; the dead he raised, / Good works were his; his name be praised"), and suggest some qualities of an interactive relationship ("I’ll worship him with all my might; / He is the source of truth and light. ... And while I strive through grief and pain,/ His voice is heard: "Ye shall obtain.")

There is some corroboration of David’s statement that other General Authorities expressed disagreement with Elder McConkie’s action. A former student of Brother Pace’s, and one who had contributed an essay to his first book, The Faith of Young Mormons, recounted the following experience:

I happened to be bishop in California at the time; at our next stake conference, during the leadership ssession, the visiting General Authority, one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, opened the time up for questions. I was the first person to raise my hand. I began, "About three months ago, there was a talk given by one of the General Authorities at BYU ... "

The authority smiled and motioned for me to sit down. He immediately knew what I was referring to and didn’t need any further descriptive details. Then, very seriously, he said, in essence, "I’m familiar with this incident you mention. In my opinion, that was a very unfortunate and unchristian thing to do. There was no call to do anything like that. And if what that teacher is saying is wrong, then the whole Book of Mormon is wrong."

Some months later when I was back at BYU to take my children to a youth function, I visited with Brother Pace in his office and shared this story. He was very contemplative and very relieved to hear my account. He said that he had received calls from other General Authorities immediately after the event saying, in essence, "I don’t understand this action by Elder McConkie." And Brother Pace didn’t understand it. He was in a quandary. His attitude was, "If I’m wrong in the doctrine I’m espousing, I will never say another word about it again; but I’m confused. What is wrong?" It’s not for me to judge Elder McConkie or anyone else, but I couldn’t tell Brother Pace. As I’ve studied and written papers about being born of the Spirit, I had no trouble finding quotations from General Authorities, given at General Conference, on the topic. I had no trouble finding statements by Elder McConkie himself on the topic.7

In this case, a General Authority was willing to express public disagreement with Elder McConkie’s action, even though he did not name him; and Brother Pace corroborated that he had received private consolation from other General Authorities.


David’s experience provides important insights into the ripple effect of abuse. One member who suffers unjust treatment from a leader is not simply a self-contained unit that can, if need be, be eliminated or replaced at will. Rather, the Church community consists of literally thousands of connections. Harshness, injustice, and abuse distill both abrupt and subtle poisons into those connections, just as, for example, President Kimball’s many acts of kindness to individuals warmed and nourished and strengthened those connections with members who heard or read about the experiences, even if they had never met him. A member, even at a distance from a leader, naturally feels that he or she, too, might be treated in the same way.

The case raises a number of questions on the larger issue of recourse for members who suffer injustice at the hands of a leader. There are a number of ways to come to terms emotionally with such events. (1) One is David’s complex model: the Church is not the gospel, and leaders are not the Savior. Elder McConkie was wrong in what he did and wrong in how he did it. This model preserves David’s father’s innocence and allows him to accept the fact that the leader made a mistake. (2) David’s mission president’s model preserves the leader’s rightness but at the expense of insisting, despite the evidence, on Brother Pace’s guilt. (3) Brother Pace’s own explanation, as interpreted by David, is that it is an agonizing but inexplicable trial to be endured in faith.

Let us examine the first question. Was Elder McConkie right in what he did? No one at any point has disputed that a General Authority has the right to correct doctrinal misunderstanding. The question was whether, in fact, that is what he did. Elder McConkie’s theological clarifications seem to be based on doctrinal understandings too subtle for the average member to grasp. If seeking a personal relationship with the Savior is wrong, then what kind of relationship are we supposed to seek? The opposite of a personal relationship is an impersonal one. Yet "worship" and hearing the voice of Christ do not suggest an impersonal relationship.

Was Elder McConkie simply offended because a warm, close, personal relationship seems to lack the "reserve" that he feels is appropriate to feelings about the Savior? If so, then on what basis should a member decide that Elder McConkie’s preferred style is right and Brother Pace’s preferred style is wrong? If God is willing to answer the prayers of both—and both testify that he does—then perhaps God’s willingness is more important than Elder McConkie’s sense of decorum. The experiences of numerous General Authorities, many of them cited in Brother Pace’s book, testify to personal visitations from the Savior that do not stop short of physical embraces. Would Elder McConkie also find the testimony of his fellow apostles indecorous?

The one clear aspect of Elder McConkie’s correction was that prayers should be addressed to the Father, not to the Son. But Brother Pace’s book nowhere advocated praying to Jesus. In fact, despite scriptural examples to the contrary (the Nephites prayed to Jesus while he was in their midst), no one at any point recorded praying or advocated praying directly to Jesus. This clarification therefore did not need to be made. In short, in answer to the question, "Was Elder McConkie right in what he did (that is, in denouncing personal relationships with the Savior as inappropriate)?", the answer seems to be that his correction added confusion, not clarification; it contradicts both a long-standing thread of experience by members and leaders of the Church, and it also contradicts some scriptures that urge a close relationship with Jesus. Whatever problem Elder McConkie was trying to solve, his solution seems to have been worse than the problem.

The second half of the question involves the method of correction that Elder McConkie used. Doctrine and Covenants 42:88-92 defines three scenarios for responding to offenses. In the first case, if the offense was private, the offended person must take the offender aside and try to resolve the matter privately. In the second, if the offender has offended "many, he ... shall be chastened before many." In the third, if the offender "offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed." Elder McConkie chose the third method. Why? Clearly, Brother Pace had offended Elder McConkie. Had he also offended "many" General Authorities for whom Elder McConkie acted as voice? It is possible, but there is no evidence of such a general offence nor does Elder McConkie’s language indicate that he is acting for the united quorum. In fact, usually when the quorum acts, the message comes from its hierarchical leader, the president of the Quorum. Had the fact of publishing a book constituted an open offense, thereby requiring an open rebuke that Brother Pace might be "ashamed"? There is no question that he was shamed—and shamed publicly—but the question of his offense must rest on evidence that his book contained offensive material. As we have seen, Elder McConkie was not able to explain this offense clearly enough to resolve confusion and contradiction.

Therefore, the one point that remains clear is that Elder McConkie was personally offended. In this case, the scriptures require him to "take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled" (D&C 42:88). There is no evidence that Elder McConkie, a prolific letter-writer, made any effort to express his doctrinal concerns to Brother Pace, either by letter or in person, before denouncing the topic of his book in public, in Brother Pace’s presence. Lest anyone conclude that, especially in the context of extremism, he was concerned about a few youthfully zealous students who had overdone a good thing, Elder McConkie systematically focused an entire devotional on the topic six months later, even quoting from Brother Pace’s book. Again, there is no indication during those six months that he made any effort to meet with Brother Pace or to resolve the differences privately. He gave Brother Pace no opportunity to "confess" and there certainly was no "reconciliation." The heavy-handed sarcasm and inflammatory language used in his devotional denunciations leave the impression that Brother Pace was a willful, deliberate, and self-aggrandizing cultist. In other words, even if a correction was necessary and even if Elder McConkie was the correct person to deliver it (neither of which is self-evident), he violated Church procedures in how he went about it. Doctrine and Covenants 121 allows for "rebuking betimes with sharpness" but it requires that such rebukes occur under the influence of the Holy Ghost and further requires that the rebuker show forth afterwards "an increase of love." Elder McConkie did not claim to be acting under the Spirit’s influence, and he certainly made no effort to reassure Brother Pace of his love.

Rather, it was Brother Pace who apologized, expressed support, and made the sole efforts toward reconciliation that seem to have been attempted. Meanwhile, the unedifying and painful spectacle remains of a leader who has deliberately injured a member in a public way but who apparently saw no need, to the end of his life, for an apology.

But there is also the mission president’s scenario: Whatever a General Authority does is right. If he chastises an apparently righteous man, then the man is secretly unrighteous and merits the chastisement. However, such a position requires all concerned to assume that a General Authority cannot err. There seem to be serious problems with making this assumption. First, most General Authorities do not claim infallibility for themselves. Even the Prophet is deemed to speak for God only when he is acting as a prophet. Therefore, it is not appropriate for members to make this assumption. Second, such an assumption of authoritative infallibility means that behavior no longer can be evaluated by its harmony with gospel principles. Rather, the only relevant question is: What is the title of the person performing the action? If hierarchical superiority is always a justification for action, then no office holder can be called to account by anyone holding a lesser office. No woman and child, by this view, has any rights vis a vis a priesthood-holder. This view is perilously close to the justification used by many incestuous fathers and battering husbands—"I’m her father/husband. I have the priesthood. She’s to obey me." The argument that rightness can be determined by the hierarchical position of the two parties cannot be accepted on its merits.

The third explanation is Brother Pace’s own explanation, as interpreted by David: that Elder McConkie’s attack was an agonizing but inexplicable trial to be endured in faith. Brother Pace seems to have so endured. The consequences have included intense suffering for him and his family; the distancing of one child from the Church, the distress among friends, relatives and even strangers that such an incident could occur in the Lord’s church; and the clear message for the members of the Church as a whole that a General Authority can, with impunity and without being asked by his own colleagues and superiors to redress his error, attack an individual whom everyone agrees to be innocent of willful offense, inflicting serious personal, social, and professional damage on him. It is not a scenario that increases love, trust, or mutual accountability in the Church.


1Because David Pace has wished to confine his views on the Pace-McConkie affair only to what he has said in public during his Sunstone address, he has not provided any information for it. The discussion and analysis represent my views, as reviewed by the trustees of the Mormon Alliance. We anticipate and welcome on-going discussion, in the expectation that additional and varying perspectives will bring continued insights to the subject.

2According to a report of the same speech, "Who Answers Prayers," in Sunstone Review, 2, no. 4 (April 1982): 1, 13, this statement continued: "It just may be that I have preached more sermons, taught more doctrine, and written more words about the Lord Jesus Christ than any man now living."

3Jerry and Dianna Benson, Warning! From Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie (pamphlet) (El Cajon, CA: Challenge Ministries, n.d.), not paginated.

4"All Are Punished!" Seventh East Press, 14 March 1982, 8. The editorial is unsigned, but the editor was then Elbert Peck.

5T. Allen Lambert, "Developing a Personal Relationship... " Seventh East Press, 17 May 1982, 9.

6Question-answer period to "Schindler in Reverse, or What Mattereth Nine among Nine Million?," session sponsored by the Mormon Alliance, papers by David Pace,"McConkie and Dad: Memories, Dreams, and a Rejection: A Personal Essay," and Janice Allred, "How to Read Bad News," Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, 11 August 1995, audiotape SL95 #214. I made several unsuccessful efforts to trace this businessman.

7Telephone interview 28 September 1995; notes in my possession.