Rightly he taught that “there are, in the Eternal Godhead, three persons--God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Testator. These three are one--one God if you will--in purposes, in powers, and in perfections. But each has his own severable work to perform, and mankind has a defined and known and specific relationship to each one of them”.
The end goal of the gospel then isn’t to have a “special relationship” with one of the members of the Godhead (ie: Jesus), but to be brought back to the presence of the Father. I suppose you could say this is done by having a "proper" relationship with each of them. I don’t think Elder McConkie meant to de-emphasize the covenant relationship with Christ that gets us home to our Father in Heaven, but merely say “hey, don’t mistake the means for the end”.
I don’t get the feeling that Elder McConkie had a lot of patience with those who did not believe in the gospel just like he did, whether within or without the Church. I also doubt that he was ever accused of having the most tact. :) He was, however, definitely bold (harsh?); especially when he felt that truth was being challenged. Apparently there was a book out which persuaded some BYU students that they could or should emphasize a special or advanced relationship with Jesus while neglecting the other two persons of the Godhead, and he came down hard on that, to call out "heresy".
Naturally, we know that the point of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be reconciled with the Father—Christ is our Mediator. Thus, McConkie seems to emphasize here that it’s not proper to single out one member of the Godhead for some special attention. One could argue that he’s making a mountain out of a mole-hill, since when we worship the Son we worship the Father, and visa-versa. Truly, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost constitute the One God we worship.
Even McConkie admits here "that most scriptures that speak of God or of the Lord do not even bother to distinguish the Father from the Son, simply because it doesn’t make any difference which God is involved. They are one. The words or deeds of either of them would be the words and deeds of the other in the same circumstance." It’s just obvious in this talk that McConkie decides to focus on their distinct and separate roles, rather than their practically infinite unity. I can see how that can and has caused some confusion (inside and outside the Church), and that’s too bad.
The one statement that may have done more harm than good, and in my opinion distracts from the heart of what he was trying to get at in this talk, was when he chose to use the words “we do not worship the Son”. Shocking right? Well, apparently he’s reserving a different definition of worship than even he has used on other occasions and that he admits, directly after saying it, that the scriptures even use. Perhaps he could or should have said that we do not worship the Son in the same role as the Father. Clearly, he's trying to differentiate degrees of worship and the different relationships we have with each person in the Godhead, but as he admits, it is a "fine line".
God the Father is our Father—we are his children. So when we pray, we pray directly to our Father in the name of Christ--just as Jesus taught; not directly to Jesus. So McConkie is emphasizing the Father’s preeminence. But in that same talk he makes clear that while our relationship with the Son is "one of brother or sister in the premortal life", it is now "one of being led to the Father by him while in this mortal sphere". In the talk he elaborates on Jesus the Christ:
He is the Lord Jehovah who championed our cause before the foundations of the earth were laid. He is the God of Israel, the promised Messiah, and the Redeemer of the world. By faith we are adopted into his family and become his children. We take upon ourselves his name, keep his commandments, and rejoice in the cleansing power of his blood. Salvation comes by him. From Creation's dawn, as long as eternity endures, there neither has been nor will be another act of such transcendent power and import as his atoning sacrifice. We do not have a fraction of the power we need to properly praise his holy name and ascribe unto him the honor and power and might and glory and dominion that is his. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.
Even in his (infamous?) book Mormon Doctrine, under the heading “worship”, McConkie writes that:
The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; Ex. 34:14; Mosiah 18:25; D&C 20:17-19.) No one can worship the Father without also worshiping the Son. “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23.) It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worship the Son. “Believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.” (2 Ne. 25:16, 29.)
So, of course, it would be disturbing to any Christian, LDS or not, if somehow they stopped reading at one point in the talk and determined that McConkie was saying that Latter-day Saints don’t worship Jesus—but that is just false. It’s also false to say that Latter-day Saints don’t believe we should have a relationship with Christ—he was just saying we shouldn’t have one at the exclusion of the other persons of the Godhead; let’s keep things in perspective.
In my opinion, now and after all is said and done, the proper relationship we have with Christ is pretty special. That covenant relationship we have with Christ is our only hope--without Him we would be lost. Furthermore, He is the father of our spiritual rebirth. We become born again as His sons and daughters. And we need to be very clear on this point. Elder M. Russell Ballard, in a talk entitled "Building Bridges of Understanding", cautioned members of the Church:
We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the pre-mortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer. They believe that we view Christ as an implementor for God, if you will, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to biblical testimony about Christ's divinity…
Now we can understand why some Latter-day Saints have tended to focus on Christ's Sonship as opposed to His Godhood. As members of earthly families, we can relate to Him as a child, as a Son, and as a Brother because we know how that feels. We can personalize that relationship because we ourselves are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. For some it may be more difficult to relate to Him as a God. And so in an attempt to draw closer to Christ and to cultivate warm and personal feelings toward Him, some tend to humanize Him, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging His Divinity. So let us be very clear on this point: it is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant.
One of the great ways to learn about real Mormon doctrine is to actually learn the doctrine in the Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 25:29 states:
And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.
Ideally, informed Latter-day Saints will correct the caricatures of this talk which have been spawned both inside and outside of the Church. Besides a Mormon Matters post, Offenders for a Word, Part 2 - Do Mormons Worship Jesus?, S. Faux at Mormon Insights has written a relevant essay entitled: Do Mormons Worship Jesus?. Even with a full understanding of the differences between traditional and restored doctrine, the correct and obvious answer is a resounding "yes".