In conjunction with this anniversary, Dennis B. Horne has graciously provided selections from his recent book, “I Know He Lives,” which includes rare behind-the-scenes accounts of the priesthood revelation by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Witness of the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood
A selection from the 2017 book,
(From the chapter on Elder McConkie’s special witness of Jesus.)
On June 1, 1978, Elder McConkie enjoyed, with his Brethren of the First Presidency and ten of the Twelve, the most spiritual experience of his life, at least to that point.[i] It came in the House of the Lord at the time of the receipt of the revelation to President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy men regardless of race (see D&C Official Declaration 2). On June 28, 1978, Elder McConkie related the event to family members while vacationing in Nauvoo, and visiting in the home of a Kimball relative. A family member present that took notes from Bruce’s narration later described what he said:
When we were all seated . . . Bruce began to tell us some of the events and details about this revelation. . . . One thing that he cautioned us not to do was to make it more than it was, even though I can’t imagine a greater thing than this in this life. . . . With President Kimball the preliminaries for this [revelation] started at least two years [before it was received]. There were many, many, discussions, returning to the subject from time to time in their quorum meetings in the temple. There was much fasting and there was much praying and many prayers were offered pleading to the Lord for a resolution of this problem. During the last three or four months there had been extended discussion during the quorum meetings regarding offering all of the blessings of the gospel to all the people of the earth.
Now the various members of the quorum were asked to express themselves briefly and did. . . . The Prophet had told the quorum that this was a problem that he had been wrestling with for many hours and had spent many hours going to the upper rooms of the temple, wrestling [in prayer] with the Lord. He had not received a revelation but he wanted a revelation. . . .
This particular Thursday (this was on June 1st) President Kimball asked the members of the Quorum [of the Twelve] to stay; he said that he had some things that he wanted to discuss further. All of the members of the quorum were there except [two].
President Kimball began by saying that there was a matter that had been discussed many times and he would like to discuss it again. He said, “We would like to get an answer to it. I would like to get a revelation one way or the other. If it is to remain as it is, I will defend it with my life. But if the Lord feels that the time is come to give the priesthood blessings to all worthy men, I want that revelation.” And then he called another prayer . . . in which he asked the Lord to give them an answer. . . . Bruce said, President Kimball in his modest way, asked the Brethren if it would be alright if he were mouth, that is, if he were the one who lead the prayer. And he said before the prayer, “Are there any questions that any of you would like to ask?” It was an informal meeting and in an informal meeting the Brethren do not have to follow seniority.
Bruce raised his hand and for ten minutes he discussed points that were known to the Prophet—that he had written in his memorandum to him—but they weren’t necessarily known to the other members of the quorum. Elder Packer then spoke and there were no new extensions of the discussion; there were no duplication of ideas. Then the Brethren began to speak freely and there was a discussion and clarification of ideas and talk that was going forward. Then they had the prayer circle and the prayer given by the Prophet, Elder McConkie said, were the words of the Lord and it was given by the Spirit. He prayed perhaps five or ten minutes and he asked the Lord for an answer, to reveal to the brethren in a simple way, His desires.
Bruce said he had often wondered what Paul had meant in Acts [2:3] by “cloven tongues of fire”—these were the words that Paul used because he had no other words to describe it. But he said since this experience in the temple, when the Lord revealed to the 10 members of the quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency His will concerning the giving of the priesthood to all worthy men, he now understood what Paul meant, because he had experienced it. But even having experienced it, he couldn’t put into words what happened except to say that he now understood what Paul meant when he said, “cloven tongues of fire fell upon the congregation,” and he said it did upon each of the members present. …
Someone asked Bruce, “was it like the day of Pentecost in the restored Church when some saw angels, some saw others and so forth?” He said, “It was like that.” They tried to get him to say who was present. He was very careful to say it was like that day and would not go into detail. …
Bruce says that this was the most spiritual experience that he had ever had, and that, if you will remember back to his conference address when he was called to be an apostle, he indicated that he had talked with the Lord prior to his being called; that he had direct communication with the Lord, and the Lord let him know that he was approved, and what was in store for him. And yet, despite all of that, he said that this was the greatest spiritual experience that he had ever had.[ii]
President Kimball heard of the informal McConkie family meeting and soon thereafter he asked Elder McConkie to write for him an account of his statements to his family at that time. Responding, Elder McConkie wrote a formal memorandum for the Prophet, dated June 30. This account confirms the substance of the above family recitation and adds further details:
In recent years the counselors in the First Presidency and all members of the Council of the Twelve and Presidency have had an acute awareness of the desire of President Spencer W. Kimball to learn the mind and will of the Lord relative to conferring the Holy Priesthood upon worthy males of every race and color. In recent months one aspect or another of this matter has come up for informal discussion in various regular meetings of the First Presidency and the Twelve. . . .
On two occasions in recent months President Kimball has invited the members of the Twelve, if they felt so inclined, to give him written memorandums expressing their personal views together with any doctrinal explanations as to whether it would be appropriate to give the priesthood to worthy members of all races and colors. Some of the Brethren responded to this invitation and sent documents to the President. . . .
On Thursday, June 1, 1978, the Twelve met as usual at 8 a.m. All of the Brethren came in at 9 a.m. and the normal meeting including testimonies was held. There were about fifteen Brethren invited to speak and bear testimony. . . . The meeting on this day seemed to have a particularly high spiritual tone. All of the Brethren who expressed themselves did so with faith and testimony and the spirit of the Lord was present in manifold abundance.
At the conclusion of the prayer . . . President Kimball took the unusual step of inviting the members of the Presidency and the Twelve to remain in the room . . . and then excused the other Brethren. Always on these first Thursdays, all of the Brethren come to the meeting fasting. On this occasion on the first of June, President Kimball said to the Twelve, that he would like them to continue during the balance of that day to fast with the Presidency and that the normal luncheon at the end of the business meeting had been cancelled. President Kimball then advised the members of the Presidency and the Twelve that in recent months he had been giving extended serious, prayerful consideration to the matter of conferring the priesthood upon the Negroes and that he felt the need for divine guidance. He said that in recent weeks he had spent many hourrs alone there in the upper room in the temple pleading with the Lord for counsel and direction. He said he hoped the Lord would give a revelation one way or another and resolve the matter. He indicated that if it was the mind and will of the Lord that we continue in the present course, denying the priesthood to the descendants of Cain, that he was willing to sustain and support that decision and defend it with all its implications to the death. He said however, that if the Lord was willing to have the priesthood go to them, he hoped for a clear affirmation of this so there would be no question in anyone’s mind.
There followed a near two-hour period in which there was complete, extended and free discussion on the matter. President Kimball began by asking for expressions of opinion and feeling from members of the Twelve. The Brethren responded freely and without hesitation. None were in any way inhibited in setting forth their views. Each one spoke. Some questions were asked by the counselors in the First Presidency as various of the Brethren expressed their views; these were answered to the seeming complete satisfaction of all. There was a wondrous and marvelous feeling and spirit of unity in the meeting. All of the expressions of all of the Brethren leaned and tended toward the view that it would be a wholesome and beneficial thing if the Lord felt inclined to approve the giving of the priesthood and temple blessings to worthy men of all races and colors. There was no divisive feeling whatever. A strong, compelling spirit of unity was in the meeting. It seemed as though all of the Brethren were in effect joining in the prayers which President Kimball had recently been making in the same room on this tremendously important matter.
After full discussion and full expression on the part of all concerned, President Kimball suggested that we go forward with the prayer. . . . He said that if it was agreeable with the Brethren he would be mouth. President Kimball then importuned the Lord with great fervor and faith. All the Brethren joined in his prayer as it was recited at the altar. He asked that a revelation might be given manifesting the Lord’s mind and will on this matter so that the issue could be resolved. It was one of those occasions when the one who was mouth in the prayer, prayed by the power of the Spirit and was given expression and guided in the words that were used and the sentences that were said. The spirit of unity that had prevailed first in the meeting with all the Brethren and then in greater manifestation and degree when the Presidency and the Twelve met alone, continued to increase in the hearts of all present.
While President Kimball prayed, the revelation came. When he ceased to pray, there was a great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit such as none of those present had ever before experienced. There are no words to describe what then happened. It was something that could only be felt in the hearts of the recipients and which can only be understood by the power of the Spirit.
When the Spirit of the Lord fell upon certain Nephite congregations, they were unable to write in language what happened and indicated that the outpouring of the Spirit could only be understood by the power of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in the Old World it is recorded that cloven tongues of fire rested upon the people. It is thought that this is an attempt to find language which would describe the overwhelming power and impact of the Holy Ghost upon the hearts of people. On this occasion in the upper room of the temple something akin to the day of Pentecost occurred. All of the Brethren at once knew and felt in their souls what the answer to the importuning petition of President Kimball was. All knew with one voice what the intent and purpose of the Lord was with reference to the priesthood. Nothing could have been more clearly and forcibly presented. Some of the Brethren were weeping. All were sober and somewhat overcome. When President Kimball stood up, several of the Brethren, in turn, threw their arms around him and each of the Brethren knew that an answer had been received and that the voice of the Lord had been heard. All knew what should be done. At this point they retired. . . . All of the Brethren felt subdued and sobered.
Subsequent to the meeting President Kimball and each of his counselors and President Benson, representing the feelings of all who were present, expressed themselves to the effect that never in their experience in the Church had they ever felt or experienced anything in any way comparable to what occurred on this first day of June in 1978, in the upper room in the Salt Lake Temple. . . .[iii]
[i] In substantiation of this statement, Elder McConkie wrote: “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” (Mark L. McConkie, Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989], 161-62).
[ii] “Address of Bill Jordan Pope,” [brother-in-law of Elder McConkie], given shortly after the 1978 revelation was received, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
[iii] Bruce R. McConkie, memorandum to President Spencer W. Kimball from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, June 30, 1978, entitled, “The Receipt of the Revelation Offering the Priesthood to Worthy Men of all Races and Colors,” 1-7; copy in author’s possession. Elder McConkie is elsewhere quoted as saying: “On the day of Pentecost in the Old World it is recorded that cloven tongues of fire rested on the people. They were trying to put into words what is impossible to express directly. There are no words to describe the sensation, but simultaneously the Twelve and the three members of the First Presidency had the Holy Ghost descend upon them and they knew that God had manifested his will. . . . I had had some remarkable spiritual experiences before, particularly in connection with my call as an apostle, but nothing of this magnitude.” This wording is incorrectly cited in Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47:2 (2008), 56, as coming from the McConkie memorandum to Pres. Kimball, but is not. I speculate this wording may have come from an interview Edward Kimball conducted with Elder McConkie at a later date.