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Richards, Stephen L. - Bringing Humanity to the Gospel - 1932 Conf Talk

Richards, Stephen L. - Bringing Humanity to the Gospel - 1932 Conf Talk

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Published by Brent Ellsworth
Talk given by Elder Richards at a 1932 general conference. After the talk was given, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve voted to exclude the talk from the official Conference Report. Maybe it says more about me than it does about them, but it is one of my favorite talks.
Talk given by Elder Richards at a 1932 general conference. After the talk was given, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve voted to exclude the talk from the official Conference Report. Maybe it says more about me than it does about them, but it is one of my favorite talks.

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Published by: Brent Ellsworth on Sep 25, 2012
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10/14/2013

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Humanity
the
Gosp61
by
ELDER STEPHEN
L.
RICHARDS
EDITOR'S NOTE. The following address was given by Elder Stephen L.Richards on April 9,1932 at the 102nd Annual Conference of thechurch.
t
is presented here not only because of the profound and still t~melv
F
hought that went into it, b"t also because Elher Richards himself wasuch a eiant of ins~irationnd strength within the Church that it seemed
I
.,
ppropriate, on the centennial of his birth,
topublishsomethingrepresen-
ative of his wisdom and humility.
Sunstone
is confident that it will beeceived by today's audience in the same spirit that Elder Richardslelivered it.Ider Stephen L. Richards was a prominent educator, attorney andChurch leader. Born June 18,1879, he graduated cum laude in 1904 withthe first graduating class from the University of ChicagoLaw School. Hepracticed in Salt Lake City and wasamemberof theuniversityof Utahlawfaculty for ten years. In 1917 he was ordained a member of the Council ofthe Twelve Apostles of the Church, and in 1951 he became FirstCounselor in the First Presidency, under President David
0.
McKay.Prominent alsoin numerous business and civic affairs, he died on May 19,1959.Elder Richards' address is remarkable for the forthright yet humble waythat he reminds us of our duty, asfollowersof theChrist, toconsider thefar-reaching implications not only of our actions but alsoof our attitudes.
A
copy of this speech is located in the Archives of the LDS HistoricalDepartment. However, there are other copies of the talk in generalcirculation.(Addressof Elder Stephen L. Richardsat the 102ndAnnualConferenceofthe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 9,1932.)
I
want to say something to promote better understand-ings in the Church. In so doing, my chief fear is that Imyself may be misunderstood. I have never felt more:he need for the aid of our Father's Spirit and the faith andsympathy of my brethren and sisters. I pray that Imay have:hem.As a preface to the specific things I wish to mention, Idesire to set forth some fundamentalprinciplesasIconceivethem.
I
interpret the gospel in terms of life. It was brought tolumanity; it is our duty to bring humanity to the Gospel.3lection, not compulsion is the genious of Christian philos-~phy. idicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion.deplore their existence.
I
fear arrogant dogmatism. It is atyrant guilty of more havoc to human-kind than the despotruling over many kingdoms. I have pity for the disobedient,not hatred. They deprive themselves of blessings. Thelisobedient punish themselves.
I
believe that the dignity of the Church should
be
naintained, and the purity of gospel truth preserved with-out dilution. But man, after all, is the object of God's work."This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass theimmortality and eternal life of man." The Church is
Godb
established agency to this high purpose.Transgressions involving moral turpitude are heinous inthe sight of God. Such transgressions are sinfuland involvethe fundamental relationships between God and man andbetween man and his fellow man. The Ten Command-ments are comprehensive of the chief sins. They are thebasis of true morality-the modernists to the contrarynotwithstanding. They were not abrogated by thegospelofJesus. "Think not that
I
am come to destroy the law." Theywere but extended and applied in a new spirit, the kind,merciful spirit of the Savior. Even some of the major sinswere forgiven of Him. "Go thy way and sin no more," wasHis gentle rebuke. The doctrine of repentance institutedwith the attestation and cleansing process of baptism wasthe epitome of the new Gospel. "Repent and be baptised,"was the cry of Christ's first disciples. The promise of thenew gospel was abundant life-more joy, more friendship,finer relations, peace on earth and eternal life in heaven.When the Gospel was restored in thisage all thegoodnessand mercy of Christ was restored. The Bible was accepted,the Ten Commandments were still the law, but they wereto be expounded and enforced in the spirit of Jesus, and notin the rigorous, unrelenting, unmerciful spirit of those whocrucified the Savior. The powers of the Priesthood wererestored, but with a constitution defining the nature and
May-June
1979
43
 
procedure of this divine authority so explicit, so kind andmerciful. and so beautiful as to stamv it with the unmistak-ablesignature of the Christ himself. ~heessence f the newconstitution of the Priesthood, as of the whole restoredgospel, was and is election without coercion, persuasionnotcompulsion, no unrighteous dominion, only patience, longsuffering, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned.With the restored Gospel came also new and enlargedknowledge and conceptions of God and man. A newphilosophy of life arose. Man's place in the universe, thebeginning, end, and purpose of his existence, were betterunderstood. Some new laws were given, new ordinancesand new commandments-not new in the sense that thevhad never existed before, but new to the knowledge of th;!people.The revelations of God which restored the Gospel andbreathed new life and vitalitv into it were excevtionallvstraightforward and plain, fa; freer from ambibity anduncertainty then are the revelations of the Bible generallyspeaking. Nevertheless, the revelations of the new dispen-sation, as well as those of the Bible, were in the beginningand are now interpreted by men, and men interpret in thelight of experience and understanding. A prophet canreceive and deliver the express word of God in the precisemanner in which God chooses to express himself, but theapplication of God's wordin thelives of menisdependent onthe wisdom of men. The svirit of God will influence thejudgment of a good man and augment his wisdom, but thefinest of human wisdom is to be distinguished from theword of God. One mav fail. the other never.No man lives or has lived whose judgment is perfect andnot subject to error. To accept the doctrine of humaninfallibility is to betray gross ignorance of the divine plan ofhuman life-the fall, mortal probation, repentance, andfinal election. There could
be
no election with perfectknowledge, omniscience. We walk by faith in mortality andby faith we exercise our agency.
Election, not compulsion, is the geniusof Christian philosophy. Ridicule andostracism often amount to compulsion.
The Church believes in new and continuous revelation,and ever holds itself in readiness to receive messages fromthe Lord. To that end the people sustain the President inparticular, and others of the General Authorities, as themedia through which God's word may be delivered. Arevelation to our living president would be as readilyaccepted and become as much a part of our scripture as therevelations given to the Prophet Joseph.In the absence of direct communication from heaven,however, the Church and its people must
be
guided by therevelations already given and the wisdom and inspiration ofits leadership. I have great confidence in the wisdom of thepresiding authorities in all departments of church service,first, because they hold the Holy Priesthood, and second,because I know them to be good men. There is virtue in theendowment of the Priesthood. It brings to men who receiveit and appreciate it an enlarged conception of iife and analtruism that is Christlike in character. It brines sviritual
v
'
knowledge and power, and the judgment of a presidingofficer holding the Priesthood is generally an inspiredjudgment. It is the product of noble motive and ferventvraver.
*,
In matters of church government and discipline, andjudgment of presiding officers is mandatory and control-ling. In matters of individual guidance to members, theircounsel is directory and persuasive only. In the interpreta-tion of scripture and doctirine, they are dependent on theirknowledge and experience and inspiration.I make this frankavowalof my ownpersonalunderstand-ing of these fundamental principles as a premise to certainobservations and conclusions I desire to present.
Not that ultimate fact and law change,but our understanding varies with oureducation and experience.
First, I hold that it isentirely compatiblewiththegeniusofthe Church to change its procedure and interpretations aschanges in thought, education and environment of peoplefrom time to time seem towarrant, provided,of course, thatno violence is done to the elemental concepts of truth whichlie at the basis of our work. I would not discard a practicemerely because it is old. Indeed,I believe that oneof the testsof worth is the test of time. But on the other hand, I wouldnot hang on to a practice or conception after t has outlivedits usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better-informed world.Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must beinfluenced bv newlv discovered evidence. Not that ultimatefact and law change, but our understanding varies with oureducation and experience. One man sees the meaning of ascripture so clearly and definitely that he exclaims withcomtemptible deprecation of a contender's view, "Why, it'sas plain as the nose on your face," and the otherreplies,"It issilly and foolish." Both are sincere. Who is right? Whatposition does the Church take? Generally, I think, theChurch takes no official position and ought not to, in thelarge majority of mooted questions. Men are permitted tohold individual views and express them with freedom solong as they are not seditious to the basic doctrines,practices, and establishments of the Church. When menlose their regard for the Church, of course, they are nolonger entitled to place and influence in it.
I
believe it to be a generally accepted proposition in ourchurch that no man's standine is affected bv the viewswhich he may honestly hold withvreference o t6e beginningof man's life on the earth and the organization of theuniverse, or the processes employed in the working of themiracles of the Bible. Personally, I find more peace of mindand comfort in what may seem a rather lazy disposition toattempt no explanation of these seemingly inexplicablematters. But if anyone holds views and gets satisfactionfrom them,
I
say let him have them, and for one
I
won'tabuse him for them.
I
do think, however, that one who has real affection forthe church and regard for its members willnever urgeviewswhich may tend to undermine the faith of members,particularly the young, in the fundamentals. I regret deeplythat there are. in some of our schools. vrofessors andteachers who take advantage of their posiiions to projecttheir theories upon young, unseasoned minds, in totaldisregard of the effect on the religious faith of thesestudents, and in some cases I fear with malignant intent to
44
Sunstone
 
destroy it. Tax-paying supporters and patrons of publicinstitutions have just cause for complaint in such instances,for while it is not the function of the public school to teachreligion, it surely has no warrant to lull it.Another aspect of the changing process that must neces-sarily go forward in a live, vital institution such as theChurch is, relates to the modification of forms and proce-dure. We do not have a great gody of set forms and rituals, Iam glad to say. The very elasticity of prayers, ceremonies,and procedure is additional evidence to me of the adaptabil-ity of our religion to human needs, and therefore of itsdivinity. Some important changes have been made in recent
I
am not afraid of change; it is themother of growth.
years. In some instances they have considerably disturbedsome members of the Church. Iamsure that theconernandalarm so created have been unwarrranted. The critics havefailed to recall that the items which have been modifiedwere originally interpreted and adapted by good menoccupying the same ecclesiastical positions and endowedwith the same power as the good men now occupying thesepositions. Personally,
I
highly approve of the changes thathave been made, and I hope and believe that the presidingauthority will be led to make other changes along variouslines that will advance the cause we represent.
I
am notifraid of change: it is the mother of growth.But even more important than change of conception,orm and procedure in our church as in any society, ischange of attitude. How do we feel about things? Havemore education, more knowledge, and wider experiencebroadened our sympathies or contracted them?In application of this question, I must mention somedelicate matters.
I
call them delicate because
I
run a greathazard of being misunderstood when
I
discuss them. Takesmoking for instance. Is there more or less tolerance for theuser of tobacco by the Church, as represented by itsofficialsand the faithful membership, than there was twenty-fiveorfifty years ago?
I
cannot say. I have no way of knowing. Wefeel that it is wrong and we inveigh against it. Men oftenconstrue the Word of Wisdom as a commandment against itand invest the practice of it with the stigma of sin.
I
thinkmyown preaching against it may be so construed. Am
I
right?Are all of us right? Have not some of our people failed todistinguish between the offense and the offender?
I
do not mean to say that
I
doubt the wisdom of the Wordof Wisdom.
I
know that it contains God's wishes anddirection for the welfare of His children, and I am sure thatthose who fail to heed the teaching of it willlose blessingsofgreat worth, but I am not sure that we have not estrangedmany from the Church or at least contributed to theirestragement by attributing to violation of our standards ofhealth, harmful as it may be, a moral turpitude and sinfulmagnitude out of proportion of the real seriousness of theoffense. Maybe I amwrong. Idonotclaim that myanalysisiscorrect, but
I
think it worthy of your attention.
I
am sure that many young people feel themselvesostracized from the Church by reason of the emphasis andthe somewhat intolerant attitude some of us have showntoward the user, not the use, of tobacco. I believe there aresome good people in the Church to whom theuseof tobaccois so repugnant and who are so offended by those whouseitthat they may actually develop a feeling akin to hatredtoward the smoker. This state of mind, to my thinking isregrettable and dangerous-dangerous to the individualwho harbors such thoughts because it tends to make himilliberal and intolerant, dangerous to the unfortunate whosuccumbs to a bad practice in that he instinctively sets up aresistance to the man who dislikes him, and dangerous tothe church because such people characterize it with areputation for dogmatic intolerance that weakens its influ-ence with its members and in the world.In lesser degree the same attitutde is manifest towardthose who use tea and coffee and other harmful beverages,and toward those who play cards, pool, billiards and someother games which havecontributed to bad associationsandundesirable practices. I heartily approve of the churchcousel that has long been given regarding these matters. Ibelieve it is sound and amply sustained by long experience.But
I
am not sure that I accord with the attitutde of mindtoward and treatment of these subjects which have in someinstances been manifested in the Church. I think that theseitems have been invested not infrequently with a morally-degrading character which has been responsible for irri-tated feelings, strained and unpleasant relations, and a lackof respect for ecclesiastical authority. This lack of respecthas been the underlying cause of many a spiritual downfall,for no one can maintain the true spirit of a Latterday Saintwithout a wholesome respect for our leaders.It is difficult for many to understand how a diversion soapparently innocent as a game of cards or a game of poolseems to be, can take on the aspect of moral delinquincymerely by church pronouncement. In fact, many do notaccept such doctrine, with the result that with them, allpronouncements of the Church are deprecated, and theyfind themselves out of harmony with the Church and itsleadership. When they reach such a conclusion, their activ-ity in the Church is immediately affected and their faithbegins to wane.
But, dear young friends, do not thinkyour church will disown you.
Perhaps
I
overdraw the picture. It is difficult for me togetthe facts. I find that the people express themselves morefreely among themselves than to their leaders. I am sure,however, there is enough of truth in it to warrant ourconsideration.Now someone naturally asks, "What are you going todoabout it? If the situation is as represented, would youabandon the campaign against cigarette smoking, tea andcoffee drinking, and withdraw counsel againstcardplaying,pool and billiards?" My answer is, "No, certainly not." TheChurch is far too interested in the temporal salvation of itsmembers to pass by these items. But
I
would surround thecampaign and the counsel with safeguards which I thinkhave often been lacking.I would like the church to continue to say to its youngpeople: "Boys and girls, don't smoke. If youdo you will bringgreat injury to yourselves. Your bodies are the tabernaclesof your spirits. You cannot take poison into your bodiesknowingly without weakening themand offering affront toyour God, who is the father of your spirits. Soyou will hurt
May-June
1979
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