Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who Was Gordon B. Hinckley?

As one Mormon aspires to the US Presidency, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints has passed on. Gordon B. Hinckley was the 15th president in LDS history, and served almost 13 years in that position. He was 97 years old. His grandfather actually knew and traveled with the church's founder- chief prophet Joseph Smith himself. Those kind of credentials apparently enhanced his standing from the very beginning. His father ran the LDS business college and his mother was a former English teacher. Young Gordon originally aspired to be a journalist, but fate had a different role for him to play. He would actually be chosen as a direct prophet of God instead.

The Hinckley era was noted for its missionary zeal, and the man himself began that work in England in 1933. He soon noticed that the promotional materials for the relatively young religion were insufficient for the task of conversion, and was placed in charge of updating them. He became known for producing a temple film to explain the rituals to new members, and it's reportedly still being used overseas to this day. From that success Hinckley was promoted to a high-ranking leadership group called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1961. In the early 80's, he ascended to the penultimate governing body- the First Presidency, a body that counsels the president of LDS. In 1995 he was ordained in the top position.

As president of the Mormons, Hinckley continued to devote his efforts to overseas growth. It is said that during his tenure, the faith attracted four million new members. He personally designed a template for a smaller temple that could be reproduced quickly and cheaply to provide new members with an essential place of worship. He also used his substantial P.R. experience on the ongoing struggles to redefine the LDS as a legitimate religion, as opposed to a cult. In order to do this, he attempted to clarify the association of the Mormons as a sect of Christianity. He also addressed thorny aspects of church history, such as the role of followers in the 1857 massacre of a wagon train of Western pioneer emigrants.

Life as the spiritual leader of a religious community with 12 million members did present some significant challenges. Hinckley held the line as a traditionalist when it came to the "institution" of marriage. He was active in the political fight to define the concept as the union of a man and woman. His church financed constitutional amendments and political campaigns to ban same-sex marriages at both the federal and state levels. As a prophet, Hinckley received and announced revelations that families live on together after death, and that gender is a defined characteristic prior to one's birth. He did however strike a blow to the hearts of traditionalists by condemning domestic abuse.

Overall Hinckley did a lot within his long life to spread the Mormon message, as a "good" apostle should. Unlike most previous Mormon leaders, Hinckley was not shy about representing his religion in the media. He appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace, on Larry King Live and within the pages of Time Magazine. He is probably more responsible than anyone else in history for convincing a large portion of America (including some Mormons themselves) that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is indeed a "Christian" church. Regardless of the theological details and disputes behind this assertion, Hinckley is to be credited with achieving social respectability for a long misunderstood religion.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess for a non member this is a good artical. Though I have a few mistakes to point out. One: President Hinckley's grandfather's association with Joseph Smith Jr. had nothing to do with his "rise" in Church Leadership. President Hinckley has many cousins who do not hold any "position" in the church. Two: There is no "rise" or "position" in the LDS faith. The Lord calls whom He calls. There is no road to leadership in the LDS faith. The Presidency is not for sale. It's not campaigned for. Three: I'm sorry if you don't understand the Fact that God put Adam and Eve on the earth to multiply and replinish. Marriage is between a man and a woman, ordained by God. If a you have a problem with the fact, it's not President Hinckley's fault. Last, but not least: It wasn't a "shock" to traditionalists that President Hinckley condemend Domestic Violence. It was a shock to violent people. I was raised traditionally, and my parents never abused eachother or myself. Now I have a traditional marriage where my husband and I don't abuse eachother. Your statement was very narrow minded. Don't blame traditionalism for Domestic Vilence.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anon,

I appreciate the response.

As regards your comments:

1. In the Hinckley bios I read (some clearly sanctioned by LDS) they sure made it seem like he was destined from youth to ascend to Apostle. That's what I was referring to when I talked about his "enhanced standing". I'm only speculating here, but I imagine that God delivered his message to Hinckley through Church elders. Or at the very least- they sanctioned his own revelations. I'm pretty sure that a random Mormon can't proclaim himself president without going through proper channels. What if a female Mormon declared that she had been called by God to assume the presidency? What would the reaction of the church be to that? I never said the position was "for sale", nor did I say there was an election.

2. It's not that I don't: "understand the Fact (sic) that God put Adam and Eve on the earth to multiply and replenish"

It's that I don't believe it. There's a major difference. It's a matter of faith on your part. I'm not getting into an argument over faith with you.

3. I don't know why you put the word "shock" in quotes. I never used that word. My understanding is that wives are (or at least were traditionally) subjugated to their husbands within the Mormon religion. I'm sure it galled some Brethren that their right to strike their wives was being called into question. If it wasn't a problem in Mormon culture, then the Apostle would never have been called upon to address it. Nevertheless I applaud Hinckley for his message about the issue. I am happy that you haven't been subject to that kind of relationship.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merge,

There is a process to becoming the President of the LDS Church, but it has nothing to do with parentage. If you want to know how it really works, you can go to lds.org and find out.

As for faith, you're right, and I appologize. One thing Hinckley stood for was personal rights. You have the right to live as you choose. I just have very strong feelings on the subject.

"Mormon" doctorine states that "neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man" in Christ. LDS men have always been taught to honor there wives. As with all groups of people, some individuals have there own ideas, and use doctrine in twisted form to get what they want. So yes there are some men who abuse there families, but they are everywhere. In schools, in government, in all religious groups, all over the world. But as a whole, LDS men are some of the kindest, gentlest, most loving men in the world. LDS women have been taught that the husband is the head of the household and hold the responsibility to govern, but it's not a dictatorship. We have a very large say in the way we live. I am a very outspoken women (as you've noticed) and I feel "safe" being so. Contrary to popular belief, we are a very liberated group. I myself teach in chruch, and have been in the presidency of my local women's group. We are quite a happy group.

I would ecourage you to go to lds.org and find out the truth about the LDS faith. Afterall, if you want to know about anything else, you'd go to the source, wouldn't you.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anon,

Well... I certainly never suggested that the President's position was simply hereditary. I have assumed that (like in every other religion I've ever studied) there are certain families that distinguish themselves over time and have a tradition of being highly involved in the faith. There are social components to religious organizations after all.

I would never dispute that there are abusive men within every segment of society. It seems like you are involved in a loving, respecting relationship... and I believe there's nothing more substantial that you can ask from life.

As far as gender roles in the Mormon faith- it's not a dynamic that I would be comfortable with. But having said that, my personal spirituality is focused on consensus. As long as both partners in a relationship have willfully agreed to the guidelines that collectively govern them, then I make an effort to reserve judgment. I know well that there are many ways of living and thinking about the world, and I realize that there is no one set of rules that make sense for everyone. I celebrate your choices as long as you are not negatively affecting others through those decisions.

Thank you for taking the time to communicate your point of view to me.

4:50 PM  

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