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Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood/Lifting the ban
Lifting the Priesthood ban
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- Gospel Topics: "Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings"
- Question: How does the revelatory process work in the case of something like the lifting of the priesthood ban?
- Question: What social and cultural obstacles stood in the way of ending the priesthood ban?
- Question: What circumstances preceded the 1978 revelation which ended the priesthood ban?
- Question: Were there witnesses to the revelation that ended the priesthood ban?
- Question: What testimonies were offered regarding the revelation that ended the priesthood ban?
Gospel Topics: "Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings"
"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013):
Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, after “spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation. “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come,” the First Presidency announced on June 8. The First Presidency stated that they were “aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us” that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.”20 The revelation rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women. The First Presidency statement regarding the revelation was canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2. —(Click here to continue)
Question: How does the revelatory process work in the case of something like the lifting of the priesthood ban?
Revelation is a process which generally follows a model in which "man inquires and then God inspires"
In other words, mortals must generally seek guidance before they receive inspiration. God will generally not provide answers to questions which have yet to be asked.
Furthermore, if we are unable to receive and implement an answer regarding a given issue, due to personal limitations or circumstances which would prevent obedience, God will generally refrain from communicating with us about it. This is not due to any limitation or lack of desire on his part, but due to mortal limitations.
God rarely—if ever—uses his prophets as "teletype machines" who mindlessly transmit God's will word for word—he requires his prophets to inquire with some thought as to potential answers (DC 9:7-9). After they seek confirmation, the Lord can gently correct or confirm. A striking Biblical example of this principle comes from King David: He announced to Nathan, the prophet, that he wished to build a temple. Nathan thought this a grand idea, and replied "Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the LORD is with thee." However, despite Nathan's sincere belief that God concurred with David's plan, he later received a revelation which contravened his initial enthusiasm. (See 2 Samuel 7:2-17.) God corrected his prophet and enhanced his imperfect understanding of the divine will.
Viewing revelation as a process often requiring patient preparation helps us understand why the priesthood ban wasn't lifted sooner
Lester Bush points out "three principle factors," while allowing for others, that created obstacles: "...the authority of decades of vigorous and unwavering First Presidency endorsement of the policy; a preconceived and highly literalistic reading of several verses in the Pearl of Great Price; and an ambient culture which was indifferent to, if not supportive of, Mormon attitudes toward blacks."
Sometimes critics from other Christian faiths excuse beliefs and behaviors in their denominations' pasts, while suggesting a much higher standard should have been met by a community led by revelation
This criticism seems to ignore dynamics manifest in Biblical times in which inspired leaders such as Moses and Paul accepted slavery as part of the cultural norm and even promoted regulations for it (Exodus 21:20-27; Leviticus 25:44-46; Deuteronomy 23:15-16; Ephesians 6:5-9; Philemon 1:8-12; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9). While what these leaders faced is not perfectly parallel to those in modern times, these prophets did not receive more socially progressive revelation than modern readers would have expected. It is clear that sometimes less than ideal practices were permitted and upheld because of the "hardness of [Moses's followers'] hearts [Mark 10:5]."
Biblical history is replete with examples of the difficulty of gaining widespread conformity even after a paradigm-shifting revelation has been received
The New Testament apostles debated over how best to transition from preaching the Gospel only to the Jews to accommodating Gentile converts (Acts 15). Despite numerous miraculous manifestations to motivate them, the Israelites had to wander 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2) to weed out idolatrous beliefs keeping them from inheriting a promised land. Mormon history also has its examples of this type, including the length of time it took the general membership to come into full compliance with the Word of Wisdom and the Manifesto. If a revelation ending the priesthood ban had been received earlier, the Saints might not have accepted it. (Elder Marion D. Hanks is reported to have said "For me it was never that blacks [were unqualified but that] the rest of us had to be brought to a condition of spiritual maturity...to meet the moment of change with grace and goodness."):203
Question: What circumstances preceded the 1978 revelation which ended the priesthood ban?
In 1954, after visiting the struggling South African mission, David O. McKay began to consider lifting the ban
In a conversation with Sterling McMurrin, President McKay said, "It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed." This was a departure from a 1949 First Presidency statement defending the ban as doctrinal, indicating a shift in his opinion. Leonard Arrington reported that President McKay formed a special committee of the Twelve that "concluded there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that church membership was not prepared for its reversal." However, David O. McKay felt that only a revelation could end the ban. Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."
As McKay's health declined, his counselor, Hugh B. Brown, attempted to lift the ban as an administrative decision
However, it became even clearer that a century of precedent was difficult to reverse without a revelation, especially when some members and leaders—echoing George Q. Cannon—felt there might be a revelatory basis for the policy.
President McKay reportedly told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."
Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban
Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban :204-205 though Church Historian Leonard Arrington
...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.
Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks....It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
The late 1960's gave, as Latter-day Saint Historian Russell Stevenson has expressed, "a groundswell of scholarly interest in the history of the priesthood ban...and it won the attention of top-level Church leaders." In 1973, Dr. Lester Bush, an army physician stationed in saigon, wrote the first schlolarly analysis of the Church's racial restriction based in primary source documentation. As Stevenson has written concerning bush:
Elijah Abels was not the exception, Bush argued; indeed, Ables had been the rule. Joseph Smith had not implemented the priesthood ban, contrary to accepted wisdom. That distinction belonged to Brigham Young. Perhaps the Church could start asking new questions, he hoped, about why it was following the course it was when Church leaders apparently did not fully understand why they were doing it. [Grant Shreeve's] fear-based wailing had fallen on deaf ears, but Bush's arguments received widespread attention at [Church headquarters in Salt Lake City]. Marion D. Hanks, then Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, later observed that Bush's article "had far more influence than the Bretheren would ever acknowledge and that it 'started to foment the pot.'" Edward Ashment, then employed by the Church Translation Department and a scholar of the Book of Abraham, observed Bruce R. McConkie reading the article. [Spencer W. Kimball] himself also highlighted several sections of the piece.
The Church continued to run into problems of black ancestry preventing the building of local leadership in certain areas, such as Brazil
As the church expanded its missionary outreach and temple building programs, leaders continued to run into problems of black ancestry preventing the building of local leadership in certain areas, most notably Brazil. The prayerful attempts to obtain the will of God intensified. Finally in June 1978, a revelation that "every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood" was received and later canonized as Official Declaration 2.
Question: Were there witnesses to the revelation that ended the priesthood ban?
Many witnesses described the 1978 revelation on the priesthood
Wrote the past LDS Church Historian:
As a historian I sought to learn the particulars and record them in my private diary. The following account is based on dozens of interviews with persons who talked with church officials after the revelation was announced. Although members of the Twelve and the First Presidency with whom I sought interviews felt they should not elaborate on what happened, I learned details from family members and friends to whom they had made comments. . . .
Those in attendance said that as [President Kimball] began his earnest prayer, they suddenly realized that it was not Kimball's prayer, but the Lord speaking through him. A revelation was being declared. Kimball himself realized that the words were not his but the Lord's. During that prayer some of the Twelve -- at least two who have said so publicly -- were transported into a celestial atmosphere, saw a divine presence and the figures of former presidents of the church (portraits of whom were hanging on the walls around them) smiling to indicate their approval and sanction. . . .
At the end of the heavenly manifestation Kimball, weeping for joy, confronted the church members, many of them also sobbing, and asked if they sustained this heavenly instruction. Embracing, all nodded vigorously and jubilantly their sanction. There had been a startling and commanding revelation from God -- an ineffable experience.
Two of the apostles present described the experience as a "day of Pentecost" similar to the one in the Kirtland Temple on April 6, 1836, the day of its dedication. They saw a heavenly personage and heard heavenly music. To the temple-clothed members, the gathering, incredible and without compare, was the greatest single event of their lives. Those I talked with wept as they spoke of it. All were certain they had witnessed a revelation from God.
Elder David B. Haight said of the same experience:
I would hope someday that our great-grandson Mark and others of our posterity would have similar spiritual experiences and that they would feel the spiritual power and influence of this gospel. I hope that Mark and others will have opportunities such as I had when I was in the temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation regarding the priesthood. I was the junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I was there. I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterwards. We just left quietly to go back to the office. No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience.
But just a few hours after the announcement was made to the press, I was assigned to attend a stake conference in Detroit, Michigan. When my plane landed in Chicago, I noticed an edition of the Chicago Tribune on the newsstand. The headline in the paper said, "Mormons Give Blacks Priesthood." And the subheading said, "President Kimball Claims to Have Received a Revelation." I bought a copy of the newspaper. I stared at one word in that subheading: claims. It stood out to me just like it was in red neon. As I walked along the hallway to make my plane connection, I thought, Here I am now in Chicago walking through this busy airport, yet I was a witness to this revelation. I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it. Little did the editor of that newspaper realize the truth of that revelation when he wrote, "Claims to Have Received a Revelation." Little did he know, or the printer, or the man who put the ink on the press, or the one who delivered the newspaper -- little did any of them know that it was truly a revelation from God. Little did they know what I knew because I was a witness to it.
Question: What testimonies were offered regarding the revelation that ended the priesthood ban?
Testimonies regarding the revelation
The Spirit of God was there.... Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.... The voice of the Spirit whispered with a certainty into our minds and our very souls.... We left that meeting subdued reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that.
—Gordon B. Hinckley
- We were all fasting and had just concluded a meeting of some three hours duration that was attended by nearly all the General Authorities. That meeting also was held in the room of the First Presidency and the Twelve in the holy temple.... After this meeting, which was one of great spiritual uplift and enlightenment, all of the brethren except those in the First Presidency and the Twelve were excused. When we were alone by ourselves in that sacred place where we meet weekly to wait upon the Lord, to seek guidance from his Spirit, and to transact the affairs of his earthly kingdom, President Kimball brought up the matter of the possible conferral of the priesthood upon those of all races. This was a subject that the group of us had discussed at length on numerous occasions in the preceding weeks and months. The President restated the problem involved, reminded us of our discussions, and said he had spent many days in this upper room pleading with the Lord for an answer to our prayers. He said that if the answer was to continue our present course of denying the priesthood to the seed of Cain, as the Lord had therefore directed, he was prepared to defend that decision to the death. But, he said, if the long sought day had come in which the curse of the past was to be removed, he thought we might prevail upon the Lord so to indicate. He expressed the hope that we might receive a clear answer one way or the other so the matter might be laid to rest. At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart.... This session continued for somewhat more than two hours. Then President Kimball suggested that we united in formal prayer.... It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, speak to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fulness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord. President Kimball’s prayer was answered and our prayers were answered. He heard the voice and we heard the same voice. All doubt and uncertainty fled. He knew the answer and we knew the answer.... In the days that followed the receipt of the new revelation, President Kimball and President Ezra Taft Benson–the senior and most spiritually experienced ones among us both said, expressing the feelings of us all, that neither of them had ever experienced anything of such spiritual magnitude and power as was poured out upon the Presidency and the Twelve that day in the upper room in the house of the Lord. And of it I say: It is true; I was there; I heard the voice; and the Lord be praised that it has come to pass in our day.
- The Lord in his providences poured out the Holy Ghost upon the First Presidency and the Twelve in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything that any then present had ever experienced. The revelation came to the President of the Church; it also came to each individual present.... The result was that President Kimball knew, and each one of us knew, independent of any other person, by direct and personal revelation to us, that the time had now come to extend the Gospel and all its blessings and all its obligations, including the priesthood and the blessings of the house of the Lord, to those of every nation, culture, and race. There was no question whatsoever as to what happened or as to the word and message that came.
- All of us then present in the Holy Temple on that blessed occasion became living witnesses of the reality of the revealed word that then came to the one appointed to receive revelation for the Church and for the world. Each of us received a confirming witness in our souls–The Holy Spirit of God speaking to the spirits within us–so that we can and do testify to the world that the revelation came and that it is the mind and will and voice of the Lord.
The outpouring of the Spirit in that room [was] so strong that none of us could speak afterward.... No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience.... I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it.... It was truly a revelation from God.... I was a witness to it.
— David B. Haight
- There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage. Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. It was a quiet sublime occasion. There was not the sound `as of a rushing mighty wind,’ there were not `cloven tongues like as of fire’ (Acts 2:2-3) as there had been on the Day of Pentecost. But there was a Pentecostal spirit, for the Holy Ghost was there. No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But The voice of the Spirit whispered with a certainty into our minds and our very soul. It was for us, at least for me personally, as I imagine it was with Enos, who said concerning his remarkable experience, `And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind’ (Enos 1:10). So it was on that memorable June 1, 1978. We left that meeting subdued and reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding. 
- I was in that circle in that sacred room when President Spencer W. Kimball on a June day in 1978 pleaded with the Lord for direction on a matter fraught with tremendous consequences. It concerned the eligibility of all worthy men to receive the priesthood. I can testify now, as I have testified before, that the spirit of revelation was felt on that occasion, and that the fruits which have flowed from that revelation have been sweet and wonderful for great numbers of people across the world.
- Each Thursday, when we are at home, the First Presidency and the twelve meet in the temple, in those sacred hallowed precincts, and we pray together and discuss certain matters together, and the spirit of revelation comes upon those present. I know. I have seen it. I was there that June day in 1978 when President Kimball received revelation, surrounded by members of the Twelve of whom I was one at the time. This is the work of God. This is his almighty work. No man can stop or hinder it. It will go on and continue to grow and bless the lives of people across the earth.
- I was in the temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation regarding the priesthood. I was the junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I was there. I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterward. We just left quietly to go back to office. No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience. Just a few hours after the announcement was made to the press, I was assigned to attend a stake conference in Detroit, Michigan. When my plane landed in Chicago, I noticed an edition of the Chicago Tribune on the newsstand. The headline in the paper said, `Mormons Give Blacks Priesthood.’ And the subheading said, “President Kimball Claims to Have Received a Revelation.” I bought a copy of the newspaper. I stared at one word in that subheading–claims. It stood out to me just like it was in red neon. As I walked along the hallway to make my pane connection, I thought, Here I am now in Chicago walking through this busy airport, yet I was a witness to this revelation. I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it. Little did the editor of that newspaper realize the truth of that revelation when he wrote`... Claims to have Received a Revelation.’ Little did he know, or the printer, or the man who put ink on the press, or the one who delivered the newspaper–little did any of them know that it was truly a revelation from God. Little did they know what I knew because I was a witness to it.
"This revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it."
—Spencer W. Kimball
- We experienced the sweetest spirit of unity and conviction that I have ever experienced.... We took each other in our arms, we were so impressed with the sweet spirit that was in evidence. Our bosoms burned with the righteousness of the decision we had made. Thank God for the inspired leadership and the great and enduring principle of revelation.
- Seldom, if ever, had there been greater unanimity in the council [He also referred to] the powerful witness of the Spirit last Thursday, and how this confirmed the divine origin of the revelation”.
- I can testify now, as I have testified before, that the spirit of revelation was felt on that occasion.
Additional information about the end of the priesthood restriction is available in the following resources:
- "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics Essay, Gospel Library
- Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008)
- “The Priesthood Organization,” episode 5 of The Priesthood Restored: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast
- "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
- Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, eds., Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1984), 209–210. ISBN 0941214222. off-site
- For a pre-Civil-Rights-movement Catholic perspective on this issue see the entry on "Philemon" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913). off-site and "Moral Aspect of Divine Law" off-site
- Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005). ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
- Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005),79–80. ISBN 0874808227.
- Leonard J. Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 183.
- Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 21-22; Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 120; W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 259: "In contrast, McKay, as president, believed divine intervention necessary regardless of the restriction's origins, something he reportedly sought but did not receive."
- Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20 working draft, 13. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version).
- Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005). ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
- Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22, footnote 105; citing for the affirmative Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian and Arrington to author, February 10 and June 15, 1998; for the negative, L. Brent Goates, interview by author, February 9, 1998.
- Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
- Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 136.
- Ibid., 137. Stevenson cites in order: 48 - Lester E. Bush, "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8, no. 1 (Spring 1973): 11-68; "New LDS Office Building Nearly Finished," [Provo] Daily Herald, June 18, 1972, 32; 50 - Lester E. Bush, "'Writing Mormonism's Negro Doctrine': An Historical Overview (1973): Context and Reflections," Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 266-67. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2. (2008): 5–78.
- Leonard J. Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 176-177.
- David B. Haight, "This Work Is True," Ensign (May 1996), 22.
- Gordon B. Hinkley, "Priesthood Restoration," Ensign (October 1988), 70.
- Bruce R. McConkie, "The New Revelation on Priesthood," in Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 127-28.
- Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978, 4.
- Bruce R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 243. ISBN 0877478961. GL direct link
- David B. Haight, Conference Report (April 1996), 31.
- Gordon B. Hinkley, "Priesthood Restoration," Ensign (October 1988), 70.
- Gordon B. Hinkley, "The Salt Lake Temple]," Ensign 23 no. 3 (March 1993), 6.
- Gordon B. Hinkley, Ketchikan Alaska Fireside, 22 June 1995; in Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1997), 555.
- David B. Haight, Conference Report (April 1996), 30-31.
- Gerry Avant, “Pres. Kimball says Revelation was Clear," Church News (6 January 979): 15.
- Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 457.
- Howard W. Hunter, cited in Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 235-36.
- Gordon B. Hinkley, "The Salt Lake Temple]," Ensign 23 no. 3 (March 1993), 6.