Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Heretical Beliefs and Feeling Welcome in the Church

There is a great story on pages 55-56 in “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” in which Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee were moving to excommunicate Sterling McMurrin for his unorthodox beliefs. When President McKay heard about it, he phoned McMurrin and asked for a private meeting.  In that meeting, McKay was never critical nor disapproving. He told McMurrin: “They cannot do this to you! They cannot put you on trial!” and that if they did, he (the President of the Church) would be McMurrin’s “first witness”.

McMurrin said: “I should have been censured for being such a heretic, and here President McKay wasn’t even interested in raising a single question about my beliefs, but simply insisted that a man in this Church had a right to believe as he pleased. And he stressed that in several ways… It was really a quite remarkable experience, to have the President of the Church talking in such genuinely liberal terms.”

I love that story. It makes me really love and respect President McKay. Would that we could have more members like him today.

Author Greg Prince later elaborated on that experience on a Mormon Stories podcast.  He said that during that same visit with Sterling McMurrin, President McKay asked a series of rhetorical questions such as “What is it that a man must believe to be a member of the church? Or what is it that a man is not allowed to believe to stay a member of the Church?”  

He didn’t answer either question, but they’re good rhetorical questions. This was in 1954 when McMurrin told McKay that it looked like they were going to try to throw him out of the Church. McKay said that if they do “I will be the first witness in your defense”, and when word of this got out the excommunication charges were dropped.  That’s some serious compassion from the President of the Church. And apparently he was as tolerant of those on the far conservative side as he was of those, like McMurrin, on the liberal side. Very cool example of pitching a big tent and welcoming everyone in.


Papa D said...

My mother was one of Pres. McKay's secretaries for a little while. She absolutely loved him - and spoke regularly of his obvious love for everyone, reagardless of their beliefs.

It's a great model to emulate - a very Christian way of seeing people.

Matt W said...

President Eyring has a similar story about his father and president McKay.

Clean Cut said...

"It's a great model to emulate - a very Christian way of seeing people."


Matt, do you have any kind of reference for that particular story? (I think I'm remembering it has to do with Eyring's disagreement with Joseph Fielding Smith on evolution).

Brett said...


Joseph said, when a brother Brown was being threatened with excommunication for his error in doctrine:

"I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine."

Clean Cut said...

Yes! I love that quote, Brett.

"I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled."


I also love the poem by Edward Markham:

"He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!"

And then most recently we have President Uchtdorf:

"Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church."